Native to high-altitude, tropical Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, and since transported to most of the warm areas of the world.
The cape gooseberry is an annual in temperate regions and a perennial in the tropics up to 3000m elevation. It can tolerate a mild frost. Mean precipitation can be 800-3000mm pa, but this needs to be distributed mainly during the growing season, with very little when fruits are maturing. It will not tolerate water-logging.
A herbaceous, soft-wooded, perennial plant that grows to a metre or more in height with densely pubescent and ribbed, often purplish branches. It has ribbed, spreading branches, and nearly opposite, velvety, heart-shaped, randomly-toothed leaves on 2-5-5cm petioles. The lamina is broadly ovate, 6-15 x 4-10cm, densely pubescent and with mostly an entire margin.
Solanaceae Family. Relatives include tomato, tamarillo, tomatillo, and many others.
Any well-drained soil, but does best on sandy to gravelly loam. If soil fertility is high, there is much vegetative growth at the expense of the fruits. Plants tolerate a pH in the range 4.5 to 8.2.
Usually seeds. Superior plants can be started from 1-year-old stem cuttings, or, less often, air layering.
There are superior selections and a few named varieties.
The flowers are hermaphrodite and are pollinated by bees and wind. They are yellow with a dark centre, bell-shaped, 2 cm wide, capped by a purplish-green, hairy, 5-pointed calyx. After the flower falls, the calyx expands, forming a straw-colored husk much larger than the fruit it encloses.
Plant in full sun, protect from wind. Plants need water during the growing season, but little while the fruits are maturing.
Needs protection from strong winds.
When fruiting is finished, prune back rather severely.
The fruit is a bright orange sub-globose berry enclosed in a pale brown parchment-like case. The berry can grow to 2cm or 3cm in diameter. It has a good protein level for a fruit and is rich in vitamins A and C with a carbohydrate content of 11-16%. The flavour is a curious blend of tart and sweet, with other side notes. The pulp, separate from the skin and seeds, represents about 73% of whole fruit weight.
They begin bearing in their first year. If pruned after fruiting, they can live and produce for several more years. Fruits are picked by hand every 2 to 3 weeks, or they can be shaken off the bush and collected on the ground. They have good keeping qualities. Fruits in their husks can be dried in the sun, and will turn into a product much like raisins.
Eaten fresh or dried, made into jams, chutneys, fruit salads and many desserts. Do not eat unripe fruit or the papery husk.
Cutworms, spider mites, scale, powdery mildew. Also prone to the same problems as local tomatoes and potatoes. Fruit left on the ground is appreciated by many insects and other small creatures.
Cape gooseberry was brought to Australia in the very early colonial days, from South Africa (the Cape). It was often the only fresh fruit the settlers had, and fortunately, it was easy to grow.