Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Most North Dakota collections of clammy ground cherry have come from the southern half of the state, but there are scattered records across the northern tier of counties. Elsewhere, the plant can be found from Nova Scotia to Utah and south to Florida and Texas, at elevations up to 7,500 ft.
Clammy ground cherry is perennial from a deeply buried caudex. Plants three feet tall have been observed, but ours are usually about a foot tall. Stems are roughened by stiff, sticky hairs. Leaves are variable in size and shape, but usually are 3-4 inches long and 2-3 inches wide and are on petioles about 1-2 inches long. Flowers droop from pedicels in the leaf axils and are blotched pale yellow and about one half inch wide. Berries are yellowish, about one fourth inch in diameter, and enclosed in a papery inflated calyx.
The plant blooms until October in all types of open, particularly sandy, habitats including native prairie, open woods, and waste places. Ground cherries are edible and were eaten raw or made into sauces by many Amerindian tribes. Plants are still grown for fruit by modern gardeners. Plants seem to do best under light grazing.
Clammy ground cherry is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) which contains about 3000 species, widely distributed but most numerous in tropical America. The family includes bittersweet, pepper, petunia, potato, tomato, and tobacco, but also the deadly henbane. The genus Physalis (Greek for "a bladder", from the inflated calyx) contains about 100 species worldwide, but only two occur in North Dakota. Heterophylla means "variable-leaved" in botanical Latin.
The species was described for science in 1831 by Christian Daniel Nees von Esenbeck (1776-1858), a German botanist and professor in Breslau.