Unusual Vegetable Plants
Tomatillo - Physalis Ixocarpa
There are over 80 closely related Physalis species. (See also Cape Gooseberry for more information)
More tender, as regards frost than the Cape Goosberry, the Tomatillo is a leafy, floppy, annual plant that produces yellow or purplish fruits not unlike small tomatoes or cherries, hence its common name of the "Ground Cherry." However, being very tolerant of all soil types and conditions it is sometimes grown as a regular crop by farmers in warmer climates where it can become a weed like nuisance if birds are allowed to spread the seed and it is not controlled.
Tomatillos have "Hermaphrodite" flowers, that when pollinated by bees, result in the same papery calyx enclosing a developing fruit, as with "Cape Gooseberries." However, there are a couple of differences in the resulting fruit. Tomatillo fruits are very popular in Mexico and often picked when they are fully grown, but not ripe, unlike "Cape Gooseberries." Picked green, the berries will keep for up to a year and being sharper in taste they are best used in cooking things like curries, or as the main component of Salsas as in Mexico.
When fully ripe the Tomatillo fruits are sweet enough to be used in pies or eaten fresh like any other fruit. There is another difference with Cape Gooseberries though, in that the pulp inside the ripe fruit is sticky.
Tomatillos are not popular in the USA, but have long been grown in South America with records showing that they were an important crop to both the Aztec and Myanne civilisations. Nowadays, they are principally grown as a food crop in Mexico, but can be found grown as far away as Australia.