Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cape gooseberries under siege

Photo: Vincent Mounier

I sowed them from seed collected from the Cape gooseberries that grow in the pots next to the swimming pool in my mother's garden.

It bears repeating that it is South Africans who call this fruit a Cape gooseberry. Physalis peruviana is the botanical name, but there are many species of Physalis. In the States, these would be called ground cherries, although that common name usually refers to a more ground-hugging plant. That plant's fruit is very sweet, with a bit of funk.

These fruit, the Cape Town ones, bear plumper berries on longer, more upright arms. The colour is more intense: a deep orange-yellow, to the ground cherries' muddier yellow. And there is a tart tang with the sweetness.

But a so-called English or American gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa, R. hirtellum and hybrids) it is not.

So. There they were. Delicious, in theory. Three little bushes on the roof. Lots of fruit forming.

I looked closely. What the...

The papery capsules have holes drilled in them. One perfect hole, each. And what was inside? Nothing, except some nondescript and dessicated debris. Whatever drilled the hole ate the berry inside and then just...left? It's a bloody mystery. Should I blame the cucumber beetles? This does not happen in Cape Town. The nerve.

As if that wasn't enough. We sat there this evening, with our drinks, looking at the whipping water of New York Harbor in the September sunlight, buffeted by the cold wind. I glanced over at the gooseberries to our left.


I knew. The bare branches had tobacco hornworm caterpillar written all over them. They'll eat anything in the Solanacea family and here was a smorgasboard in a row: tomatoes, eggplant, Cape gooseberries.

Photo: Vincent Mounier

I did not give him a bungee cord.

Later Vince went hunting and found four more. He hunts them like he hunts chameleons.

He can post his Frankenvurm images, later.

Let's just say they landed up in a cocktail glass. A caterpillar departure lounge.


  1. Mum pretty much slices them in two with her secateurs... she's very efficient about certain things.

  2. Ihhhhhhhhh for the caterpillars, and another "ihhhhhhhh" for the slicing in two parts. Last year I had to murder two mice on my balcony. Still am a little afraid or paranoid.
    Sorry, I have no idea about the physalis-thief.

  3. Oh my... What destructive little critters! Your 1st photo was lovely. I admit I have never seen a gooseberry, but my mother used to refer to an area where my father grew up in Southwest Georgia as "Gooseberry." Odd, in that I read gooseberries don't fair well in our heat. Perhaps the climate has changed since the early years of the 20th century! Anyway, hope your plants recover from the ravishing.

  4. Your Cape Gooseberries look to be the same as what we call "Poha" in Hawaii. Makes wonderful jam. Quite expensive as it grows best in cooler weather.

  5. The slugs and snails go in my garden go into the yard waste bin which is picked up by the city twice a month and turned into compost....a sumptuous last meal and then they become part of the circle of life.

  6. these photos (& your story) are amazing.


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