While working in my garden this weekend, I came across these skeletonized remains of a plant I call Chinese lantern (Latin name: Physalis alkekengi). Also known as winter cherry, Chinese lantern is a member of the nightshade family, which includes tomatoes and potatoes, and is considered toxic if eaten.
Several years ago, someone brought a division to my plant swap party, and I, unaware of its invasive nature, planted it in my garden. I have struggled to contain it ever since. Like mint, it spreads through its root system, growing sneakily underground and then popping up sometimes far from its source.
As a green, flowering plant in the spring and summer, the Chinese lantern is nondescript and weedy, with jointed stems and teeny white flowers, weaseling its way unwanted throughout the garden. However, by the fall, the little white flowers morph into glowing orange paper globes that when exposed to the elements decay to reveal hidden orange berries.
It is such an elegant, clever and aesthetically lovely design that in the end I have to marvel at its tenacity and admire its beauty. So Chinese lantern and I have come to a truce. It is now allowed to thrive on the garden edges, and this time of year I reap its gifts.
Some years I harvest the lanterns when they are whole and unblemished and display them in glass containers. Although delicate and fragile, they will keep for years.