Physalis peruviana (PROSEA)
- Protologue: Sp. Pl.: 184 (1753).
- Family: Solanaceae
- Chromosome number: 2n= 24, 48
- Cape gooseberry (En)
- Indonesia: ceplukan, cecendet badak
- Philippines: lobo-lobohan
- Thailand: gusboeri (Bangkok).
Origin and geographic distribution
The cape gooseberry occurs naturally in the Peruvian and Chilian highlands. During the last 200 years it has been cultivated and become widely naturalized elsewhere in tropical highlands; it is also grown in the subtropics and in mild temperate areas. The plant is common in South-East Asia but not cultivated much.
The orange-yellow to pale brown berries are eaten fresh or gathered to be mixed whole or sliced in fruit salads and fruit cocktails. However, the fruit is more often stewed for use in pies, puddings, chutneys and ice creams; the stewed fruit may also be canned or processed into jam or jelly.
In several countries the leaves are used medicinally and in Mexico a decoction of the calyces is used to cure diabetes.
Production and international trade
Fruits are gathered for home use and occasionally sold on local markets. Commercial production is found mainly in subtropical and mild temperate zones, in particular in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Some fresh fruit is imported into Europe from Kenya, Madagascar, Colombia and the Far East.
Unripe fruit is said to be poisonous. The berry contains a sweet/sour juice with a slightly tart flavour and can be eaten whole. The husk is bitter and inedible. The berry contains 0.8% citric acid. It is rich in vitamins A and P and contains about 30 mg vitamin C and 2.8 mg B12 per 100 g edible portion, and much pectin.
- Perennial herb, 0.5-2 m tall, with purplish, ribbed, spreading branches and creeping rootstock, densely pubescent.
- Leaves subopposite, ovate, 5-15 cm × 4-10 cm, cordate at base, acuminate at apex, entire or shallowly toothed, petioles as long as blades.
- Flowers solitary, pendent, axillary; pedicel 1 cm long, longer in fruit; calyx 5-toothed; corolla 2 cm in diameter, slightly 5-lobed, yellow with 5 large dark brown-purple spots within; anthers purple; stigma subcapitate.
- Fruit a globose berry, 1-2 cm in diameter, orange-yellow, glabrous, enclosed in the densely pubescent, ovoid, inflated bladdery calyx (husk); pulp juicy.
- Seeds numerous, yellowish, very small.
Growth and development
Cape gooseberry is perennial in the tropics, but annual in subtropics and temperate regions. Seed germination rate is poor. Plants are self-pollinating.
Other botanical information
In countries such as Australia cape gooseberry seed is traded under cultivar names. These cultivars, such as "Golden Nugget" and "New Sugar Giant", are often large-fruited but the taste is rather bland. The small-fruited types have the best flavour and are preferred for jam and preserves.
The genus Physalis L. includes about 100 annual and perennial herbaceous species with husk-covered fruit, but the taxonomy and nomenclature are not yet well established. Many species are weeds of cultivation, mainly in America, some worldwide. Examples of such weeds in South-East Asia are P. angulata L. and P. minima L. - species with edible fruit.
The ecological requirements are not unlike those for tomato, but the temperature range appears to be somewhat cooler: the plants are not killed by slight frost. They also flower and fruit best in fairly cool weather; high temperatures are detrimental to flowering and fruiting. Hence, in areas with a seasonal climate (also in the subtropics) the crop is timed to fruit in the cool season. In Indonesia plants are found at altitudes ranging from 700-2300 m, but the crop grows best above 1500 m. The overcast skies in many highlands and the shade of open forest in naturalized stands suggest tolerance to low light levels, but fruiting seems to be best in full light.
Ample rain and rich alluvial soil lead to lush growth and delayed fruiting. The fruit is spoiled if wet conditions prevail during the harvest season. Moisture stress can impose dormancy. Well-drained sandy loams with good organic matter content are preferred.
Propagation and planting
Propagation is by seed which germinates slowly and irregularly. Vegetative propagation, using mature stem cuttings treated with 1% indole butyric acid (IBA) rooting hormone, produces an early-flowering plant. Suggestions for the nursery are: a raised seed-bed of virgin soil, manured well in advance, seed required 70 g/ha (200-300 seeds/g), dibble in rows, 10-15 cm apart, 0.3-0.5 cm deep, 4-6 seeds per 10 cm, firm, water slightly, shade or mulch, thin out or prick out and transplant after 6-8 weeks when 15-20 cm high. Spacing recommendations range from 0.9 m × 0.45 m to 1.8 m × 0.9 m (2.5-0.6 plants/m2), depending mainly on the cost of labour and the intended crop duration. Wide spacings produce larger berries, close spacings high early yields.
A basal dressing of manure and/or compound fertilizer (e.g. 50-100 g per plant of 5-13-5 NPK) is applied at planting. Topdressing with sulphate of ammonia or 5-13-5 NPK mixture at half-grown stage can be beneficial. Most of the feeding roots are near the surface and cultivation should be shallow and minimal. Mulching enhances plant growth and yield in New Zealand, increasing moisture retention, suppressing weed growth and preventing contact of the fruit with the soil. In dry seasons irrigation is needed. Plants commence to fruit about 3 months after planting out and harvesting may continue until frosts interfere (at high latitudes), until rising temperatures suppress flowering or until moisture stress imposes dormancy (at lower latitudes).
In the tropics the plants can be kept in production by severe cutting back after imposing dormancy, but the yield of successive ratoons drops sharply and it is generally more economical to start anew, rotating the fields.
Diseases and pests
Root rots occur on poorly drained land. Cutworms, corn ear worms, red spider mites and powdery mildew can be troublesome. Rootknot nematodes and virus diseases reduce plant vigour. Proper rotation, ample organic matter application and mulching minimize ill effects.
Fruit can be handpicked every 2-3 weeks provided they are not wet from rain or dew. A more uniform, fully mature product is obtained by shaking the bushes and gathering the husked fruits which have dropped on the ground.
A single plant may yield 300 fruits; 7-9 t/ha are obtained in India, and mulched plants produce up to 13 t/ha in New Zealand.
Handling after harvest
The fruits may need to be spread out in a thin layer for up to 2 days to dry until the husks are crisp. This reduces the risk of rotting of both berry and husk. Preparation for the market includes dehusking and packing in punnets. Small fancy packs may contain the fruit still enclosed in the dry husks. The berries travel and store well. Fruits with intact husks dried at 30°C keep well for 4-5 months, and dehusked fresh fruit can be stored in a sealed container with dry atmosphere for several months.
South-East Asia has many highland areas with moderate or low rainfall for sufficiently long periods to grow cape gooseberry successfully. Labour is available for intensive husbandry, e.g. hand picking. Moreover, the product is attractive for the fruit trade as it travels and stores so well. On the other hand, the fruit is mainly used to fill pies, etc., an application for which a housewife wants relatively cheap raw materials. Also this kind of use does not play an important role in food habits in South-East Asia. Clearly the economics of the crop and market-acceptance require further study. Such studies should be based on cultivars or strains selected for good yield and superior fruit quality. By combining produce from different highlands, a very long supply season could be guaranteed to customers in overseas markets.
- Hockings, E.T. (Editor), 1961. The Queensland Agricultural and Pastoral Handbook. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Government Printer, Brisbane. pp. 347-350.
- Legge, A.P., 1974. Notes on the history, cultivation and uses of Physalis peruviana L. Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society (UK) 99(7): 310-314.
- Morton, J.F., 1987. Fruits of warm climates. Creative Resource Systems, Winterville, N.C. pp. 430-434.