The cape gooseberry goes by many names, ground cherry and goldenberry being the most common. It is part of the family called physalis, a nightshade relative of the tomato and some other ground-growing berries. Its origins are not well known, though it is native to several places, including Peru, Chile, and South Africa. While grown for its fruitful harvest, in most native places, it also grows wild.
Cape gooseberries have leaves that look like hearts and flowers that look like bells, which form a “bladder” over the fruit as it develops. Once matured, the fruit forms a straw-like husk. The shrub grows to a meter in height but if well maintained can reach two meters.
The cape gooseberry is an excellent source of vitamins and is a good source of energy, protein, and phosphorus. It is also rich in polyphenols and carotenoids. The cape gooseberry can be grown in almost any environment and is an easy plant to care for.
Its typical season differs by region: In the south, fruit develops from summer to the next spring, and in central areas, it grows from spring to summer and will bear fruit. In northern areas, fruit will yield from late summer until the first frost. It can handle cold temperatures but is not susceptible to heat, though it may grow some mildew in high moisture climates. The perfect climate for the goldenberry is a moderate temperature.
How to Plant Cape Gooseberry
The cape gooseberry is an annual. To yield the most fruit, it is best planted in a low-fertility soil, as in high-fertility soil it will most likely yield useless vegetation. It is adaptable to most soil types and will grow almost anywhere, although it does best in sand or gravel. Cape Gooseberry especially thrives in the sun, in fields, ditches, or among other crops. If you live in a colder region, however, the cape gooseberry will need some protection from frost. Planting them next to a building or a wall will be enough. You can also use plastic row covers. Plant the seeds once, and they will take care of themselves. Cape gooseberry thrives on neglect.
How to Care for Cape Gooseberry
The cape gooseberry is easy to care for. In fact, it doesn’t need much care at all. The plant does need about 800 milliliters of water daily, and excess water is not good for it. Pruning is not required until after the first harvest. Apart from that, there is not much to do to care for this plant. All you need to do is water it, and cape gooseberry will grow on its own.
How to Harvest Cape Gooseberry
The goldenberry has many harvests in a season. Flowering can last up to 75 days after seeding, and the first harvest usually occurs up to 100 days after that. It takes months for the fruit to ripen. When it does, it will produce fruit for up to three years, but after the first year, the fruit is usually smaller. Some fruit will fall to the ground, and if still in the husk, it will remain edible up to several days.
Pests and Diseases
Usually, bugs are not an issue until the goldenberry grows large. In certain areas, if well maintained, pests are not an issue. Birds do consume the fruit, however. If planted in a high-moisture climate, mildew may form on the fruit. This can also happen with excessive rainfall. This plant can sometimes fall victim to tobacco mosaic virus, giving its leaves distinct bacterial leaf spots.
Varieties of Cape Gooseberry
There are five varieties of this plant. The giallo rosso has fruit that is best eaten raw. And if grown in an area with a mild winter, it will last several years. The giant gets its name because it can grow up to five feet and has large and delicious-tasting fruit, though it requires more time to grow. The giant poha berry has fruit that grows an inch in diameter. Its leaves are different from the other plants of the same family and are fuzzy and grayish in color.
The golden berry has fruit that can grow to two inches in diameter. The pulp of the fruit is also much sweeter and full of flavor. It is resistant to frost, unlike the other varieties. However, it does take a year and a half to bear fruit. The long aston is actually a selection of golden berry. It has a rich golden color, unlike other types.
Unfortunately, few people grow cape gooseberry for commercial farming. This might be because the fruit would be hard to ship—but it is perfect as a local farming crop. In its native homes, it is common to see cape gooseberry grown in such a way. The plant has many uses, jams being one of the best, and for centuries, people have used it as a diuretic and also as an antiasthmatic treatment. In South Africa, they grind the leaves into medicine for inflammation. In Australia, they use the leaves for enemas for abdominal relief in children. Cape gooseberries have medicinal as well as nutritional value.
Common Questions and Answers About Cape Gooseberry
by Erin Marissa Russell
Can you freeze cape gooseberries?
Yes, freezing is one way to preserve cape gooseberries. You can either place the berries into a container and freeze or lay them out on a cookie sheet to freeze before packing into a container. Using the cookie sheet to freeze first prevents the berries sticking together so you can later remove the portion you need easily.
Can you grow cape gooseberry from cuttings?
You can grow cape gooseberry from cuttings by taking your cutting during the plant’s dormant season, which is from mid-autumn to late winter. The very best times to take cuttings are just after leaves have dropped or in spring, right before the buds open. Do not take cuttings during especially cold weather. Choose a cutting that’s from an area of strong growth at least one year old. Trim the soft, new growth off the tip of the branch, then cut the branch into six-inch sections. Make your top cut at an angle, just above a bud. Make your bottom cuts just below a bud, and cut in a straight line.
Use deep pots for rooting cuttings, filled with a mixture of compost and coarse sand. Treat the bottom end of each cutting with hormone rooting powder, then bury to half its height in the soil mixture in your container. Keep the pots in a cold frame, greenhouse, or unheated garage, shed, or patio. Leave them there until the next autumn, by which time they will have grown roots. Transplant to their permanent locations in your garden, and you will see them bear fruit in three or four years.
Can you grow cape gooseberry in pots?
Yes, you can grow cape gooseberry plants in containers as long as they get at least six hours per day of sunlight and the soil in the container is well-draining. (Of course, containers should have drainage holes, as with anything else you plant.)
Do cape gooseberries need full sun?
Cape gooseberries need full sun to thrive, which means at least six hours a day of bright sunlight.
Do cape gooseberries ripen after picking?
Yes, cape gooseberries will continue to ripen after you pick them, especially if you place them in a windowsill to ripen.
How do you germinate cape gooseberry seeds?
Start your seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area. Lightly cover the seeds with just a sixteenth of an inch of soil, and keep the soil moist while they germinate and grow. Transplant outdoors once the weather has warmed up.
How do you know when cape gooseberries are ripe?
You know your cape gooseberries have ripened when the husk around the berry has dried out and lost its color. The berries may have fallen off the plant at this point. If you remove the husk from a berry and see it is not yellow but has a greenish tint, place it on a windowsill so it can continue ripening. It is ripe when the entire fruit is yellow or orange.
How long do cape gooseberries take to germinate?
It takes two to six weeks for cape gooseberry plants to germinate under ideal conditions.
How long do cape gooseberries take to grow?
Seeds take two to six weeks to germinate. It takes 90-120 days for the plants to become mature. After the flowers have been pollinated, the fruit will be mature in 70 to 80 days.
Is cape gooseberry a perennial?
Cape gooseberry plants are perennial in the tropics and annual in other temperate regions where they are grown.
Is cape gooseberry edible?
Yes, the fruit of cape gooseberry plants is edible. Cape gooseberries can be eaten raw or cooked, and they are used in savory as well as sweet dishes.
Is cape gooseberry poisonous to humans, dogs, or cats?
The unripe fruit, leaves, and flowers of cape gooseberry are poisonous to humans. The plant is also poisonous to dogs and cats. Consumption or contact with skin can result in collapse, dilated pupils, diarrhea, low body temperature, seizures, and vomiting. If it contacts with skin, rinse reddened areas with water for 10 minutes. If consumed, remove any remaining plant material from your pet’s mouth and rinse out the mouth. Then contact your veterinarian. With questions about human ingestion, contact the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222. For questions about ingestion by pets, contact ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Hotline at 888-426-4435.
Should cape gooseberries be refrigerated?
Cape gooseberries kept in their husks stay fresh for a few months without refrigeration. If you need to keep them longer than that, consider freezing the berries.
Where do cape gooseberries grow?
Cape gooseberries first came from Brazil, but they spread for their territory to include Peru and Chile. By 1774, it was being grown in England, and in 1807, settlers were growing it at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. It was quickly brought to Australia and Hawaii, and is only now beginning to get cultivation in the United States.
Alexandria Harkins is a writer with a passion for literature. Born and raised in Georgia, she now raises her own family in the beautiful blue ridges of the state. With a passion for the earth and all things natural, she hopes to one day assume the family green thumb. For now she studies all things botanical so that she can gain knowledge to start her own herb garden.
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