Physalis alkekengi "Chinese Lantern" is an attractive, hardy perennial plant that grows in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 10. It thrives in sun or partial shade and is not particular about the soil's pH value. Chinese lantern plants are usually started by seed, producing heart-shaped, deep green leaves and mid-summer white flowers. In the autumn the plant forms attractive, orange-colored seed pods that resemble Chinese lanterns.
In September and October, when the Chinese lantern plant's seed pods turn bright orange, you can harvest the stems with pods for fresh floral arrangements. Harvest the Chinese lantern when the stems are still strong and green, not brown and shriveled, because the drier stems aren't as strong and will deteriorate faster. Remove all the leaves from the stem by pinching or snipping them off. The leaves don't have a long vase life, but the seed pods will stay fresh for about one week, adding visual interest to arrangements with chrysanthemums, sunflowers, autumn berries, branches and other fall-blooming flowers.
Alternatively, use dried stems with pods in flower arrangements, because the dry seed pods retain their bright orange color. The plant's dried leaves are unattractive and should be removed. Dry the stems with the pods in an upright position to retain the downward droop of the seed pods. Once dried, the pods can be sprayed with clear acrylic paint or left natural. Combine the Chinese lantern stems with dried grasses and other seed pods--such as milkweed or wheat--or twisty branches for a striking fall arrangement.
Incorporating Chinese lantern seed pods into autumn wreaths adds color, interest and longevity. You can keep the seed pods attached to the harvested plant stem, but you must weave the stem into the wreath design while it's still flexible and green, before the stem becomes dried and ridged. Fill in the fall wreath with dried grasses, seed pods, leaves and colorful berry branches. If your Chinese lantern seed pods and stems have already dried, cut the pods from the stem and use hot glue to add them to your autumn wreath design.
Make it Unique
You can alter the appearance of the Chinese lantern seed pods to expose the deep red-orange fruit inside. Carefully cut along the veins of the pod with a sharp knife, from tip to base, when the pod is still fresh and moist. The cut sections will then naturally curl back to dry. Or make the cuts and gently bend the sections back to create the look of bright orange flower petals with a flaming orange center.
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