chinese lantern

Fanciful “flowers” for fall festivities.

name dropping
Commonly known as Chinese lantern, Japanese lantern, winter cherry and bladder cherry, this distinctive botanical’s classification in the plant kingdom is Physalis alkekengi (FY-sa-lis al-ke-KEN-jee).

family ties
Physalis is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. Close relatives include Petunia; tomato and tomatillo; bell pepper, chili pepper and cayenne pepper; eggplant, potato and Jerusalem cherry; tobacco; and thorn apple and jimson weed.

widespread origins
Chinese lanterns are native to an expansive region from southern Europe through Asia, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Korea and Japan.

paper flowers
Chinese lanterns are notable for their pendulous, bladderlike, orange calyxes—the “lanterns.” The calyxes, which hang from leafy, lightly haired main stems, have a thin, paperlike texture and enclose red-orange (when ripe) berries.

floral chameleons
Chinese lantern calyxes are green at first, then yellow and finally orange to red-orange as they mature. (The color develops as the berries inside the calyxes ripen.)

staying power
When given proper care, Chinese lanterns can last for five to 10 days or longer as fresh flowers, but because they dry beautifully in a fresh-appearing state, consumers often perceive them as lasting for months. They can be used either on or off the stem.

selling season
These beauties are available from July through December, but peak production occurs in September, October and November. Early crops usually have green calyxes.

fragile packages
Chinese lanterns are usually sold in five-stem bunches. Packaging should be somewhat loose, to minimize damage and rot to these delicate delights.

swollen is pretty
Look for “lanterns” that are puffed out and undamaged. Choose bunches that have the fewest damaged calyxes, avoid bunches that have spots on the calyxes or leaves, and make sure stems are clean and nonslimy.

care giving
Immediately upon their arrival, remove Chinese lanterns from the shipping boxes, and check their quality. Next, remove any leaves that would be under water in the storage containers, and recut the stems with a sharp knife or pruner, removing at least 1 inch of stem. Immediately after cutting, dip or place the stem ends into a hydration solution, then place them into clean, disinfected containers partially filled with warm (100 F to 110 F), properly proportioned flower-food solution.

be cool - or not
After processing, place Chinese lanterns into a floral cooler at 34 F to 38 F, and allow the stems to hydrate for at least two hours before using or selling them. These botanicals also can be held at room temperature.

maintenance, man
Recut stems, wash containers and change flower-food solution every other day to prevent bacteria buildup. Stems can quickly become slimy.

wet and dry
As mentioned earlier, Chinese lanterns dry beautifully and naturally. Keep the stems in clean flower-food solution until the calyxes (“lanterns”) are dried.

split personality
For an interesting look, split some calyxes into three or more sections while they are still fresh. Then, as they dry, the calyxes will curl outward, exposing the berries inside. When they’re dry, spray the lanterns with a dry flower sealant. If their color fades, enhance the calyxes with spray, mist or dip-dye floral colorants.

it's greek to me
The botanical name Physalis comes from the Greek word physa, meaning “bladder,” in reference to the puffy calyxes.

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