A community is coming together to restore Bruce Beach for recreation and wildlife. In November, led by Barbara Albrecht, students from Trinitas Christian School and members of the Native Plant Society spent an afternoon creating a small demonstration garden at Bruce Beach with coastal dune plants grown by the University of Florida Milton campus. One of the plants, Coastal Groundcherry, Physalis augustifolia, is used in dune habitat restoration. The fruit it produces is important for threatened and endangered beach mice.  Coastal Groundcherry hugs the ground, just the right height for a tiny beach mouse looking to fill her larder. Physalis are a member of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family along with tomatoes and tomatillos.
They are most easily identified by the calyx or lantern enclosing their fruit.  Physalis means “bladder” and refers to the enclosed fruit.
The single, yellow-green flowers are turned down making them almost inconspicuous.
The calyx is meant to protect the fruit until it ripens, but the Subflexus Straw Moth, Heliothis subflexa, has adapted to this defense system.
Physalis species have become the exclusive host plant for their larva.
 A newly hatched caterpillar chews into the calyx and then into the ripening fruit where it is protected from predators.
Researchers believe the moth also benefits from an antibacterial steroid in the fruit which stimulates their immune system against bacteria.
There are a variety of groundcherries in Florida.  You can learn more about them in this video: Green Deane, the edible ground cherry (physalis) a wild edible that has found its way into cultivation.
By Carole Tebay