Inca Berry Overview:
The Inca Berry is an easy to grow attractive herbaceous shrub with amazing fruit.
The fruit is really cool. It comes in a papery Chinese lantern like packaging. Inside the papery packaging is the edible marble sized golden fruit. The plant looks a lot like a tomatillo because they are so closely related.
Inca Berry taste:
- Overall the Inca Berry taste is a sweet and mildly sour. However there is also an exotic background flavor with elements of citrus and somewhat musky elements.
- It seems that every berry that I have tasted (and I have eaten many) has a subtly different flavor.
- The fruit also contains many small pleasantly crunchy seeds.
My friend, Stasi Seay is an expert wine educator and has an excellent palate. I had her try the Inca Berry for the first time and caught her reactions on video. Check out the YouTube link.
Another take on a virtual test (and stable camera)
- There seem to be several potential fruiting seasons depending on conditions. I have several plants growing now and they seem to flower and fruit throughout the year.
- The fruit is only ready to eat when the papery coating turns brown and falls to the ground on its own. The green fruits that haven’t fallen to the ground are not ripe and may be poisonous.
- The Inca Berry is a small shrub like, soft-wooded plant with velvety heart shaped leaves. The plant grows 2 to 6 feet in height.
- Unfortunately, the plant is relatively short lived. Some reports state that it will live to about 3 years. However, on the plus side, it is very easy to grow from seeds.
- The Inca Berry is also related to nightshade and most of the plant is poisonous to mammals. Therefore, I did not cage the roots to protect it from gophers. In fact, I welcome the pesky gophers and rabbits to try and take a bite.
Inca Berry propagation:
- The Inca Berry is really easy to grow from seed, and I recommend you do so because of the plants relatively short life span.
- I have also seen a few “volunteer” Inca Berries sprouting up around the yard that were likely “planted” by my local munching animals.
- See how easy it is to propagate the Inca Berry here http://tastylandscape.com/2013/05/05/how-to-propagate-inca-berry/
- If you don’t have access to the fruit, then buying seeds would be my second choice.
The cool thing is that once you get them going, you wont need to buy Inca Berry seeds again because you just use the fruit to grow additional plants.
I found what looks to be good Inca Berry (Physalis Peruvian) seeds on Amazon (see link below).
CAPE GOOSEBERRY “Physalis Peruviana” 25-Annual Seeds
- The Inca Berry does really well in our nutrient poor soil.
- However, the plant does better if you add in some organic material, but not too much. If the soil is too rich you with get a lot of vegetative growth and less fruit.
- The most important thing for this plant is that the soil needs to be well draining.
- Overall, the plant does best on sandy/gravelly loam.
- They do grow fine in pots but do much better in the ground.
Regular watering during the growing season. Cut back on watering during fruiting.
Go light on the fertilization. Over fertilization will give you a lot of vegetative growth and less fruit.
- Inca Berries grow wild at high equatorial altitudes, which makes sense based on its natural range. However, I suspect that the equatorial mountains of its natural range are still pretty warm.
- To this end, I have also read that the plant is cold sensitive and will die back with a hard frost; but can sprout back the next year if not too cold. I have not seen this happen here, perhaps it was not cold enough. The Inca Berry is an annual in temperate regions and a perennial in the tropics. I live close to sea level in Southern California and the thing is doing really well.
- For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”
- I have not noticed any pests so far.
- However, I have read that older plants (greater than 2 years old) are prone to root rot in South Africa.
- Too much humidity has been reported to result in powdery mildew.
- The potato tuber moth is apparently a problem if in the vicinity of potato fields.
- Cutworms, red spiders, mites, and white fly have also been reported to be a problem.
- Since it is related to the nightshade, most of the plant is poisonous. However, I have also read that hares can damage young plants; I guess that’s possible, but I am in disbelief.
- Slugs and snails don’t seem to bother the plant yet.
Pests update (8/17/13)
Three-lined Potato Beetle (Lema daturaphila):
- Recently a fellow gardener asked me a question about holes in the leaves of his Inca Berry plant. Well, I have some good news… and some bad news.
- The good news is, I am pretty sure I know whats causing his leaf-hole problem.
- The bad news is that I now have that problem.
- The culprit is the rather over sexed “Three Lined Potato Beetle”
- I say over sexed because the majority of the ones that I have seen (either on my plants or on-line) are getting it on.
- It seems that there is some regional variation in the coloring of the beetle: East-coasters seem to have a red head and West-coasters have a darker or yellow head.
- This pest really likes plants in the tomato (Solanaceae) family, and from what I have read, they seems to have a uncanny predisposition for tomatillo plants… Which are very very similar to the Inca Berry. So its no wonder why these guys are going bonkers on the Inca Berry leaves.
- The larvae are rather filthy, in that they cover themselves with their own crap. Apparently, this is a defense mechanism.
- Insect prevention involves rotating crops and row covers (before they arrive in early summer).
- Once the bugs are there/here the goal is to eliminate them however you can.
- I have been spraying off the orange clusters of eggs with a garden hose. I have done the same for the poo covered larva (well, at least they are getting a much needed shower).
- Some people advocate picking off the larva and adults by hand. Although this is time consuming, its not too difficult given that the adults seem rather dim-and slow. However, the beetles can fly if you give them a chance.
- Since I just got hit with this infection, I haven’t tried insect sprays yet. However, I have read that carbaryl, permethrin, bifenthrin, neem, pyrethrins and soaps work. The soap option seems like a rather appropriate option for the dirty little larva.
Some additional Three Lined Potato Beetle references:
- Inca Berries taste awesome fresh off the bush.
- It is also made into jam, dried and added to trail mix, used in muffins, biscuits, cakes, pies and cookies.
- Inca berries and cheese also go great together.
- I also just read that chocolate covered Inca berries are “amazing,” I’ll have to try that soon.
- The Inca Berry is native to high-altitude, tropical Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador (thus the plants name).
- There is a long list of reported medical benefits, and the Inca Berry is being hailed as being the latest “Superfood.” This might (or might not) be true, I haven’t really looked into the validity of those claims yet.
- The Inca Berry is also known by the names;
Poha Berry, Cape Gooseberry, Aztec Berry, Golden Berry, Giant Ground Cherry, Peruvian Ground Cherry, Peruvian Cherry, Pok Pok, Poha, Ras Bhari, Aguaymanto, Uvilla, Uchuva, Physalis.
- If your looking for a cash crop this might be the one. The easy to grow Inca Berry produce boatloads of fruit… And a handful of the fruit sells for close to $5 at high end grocery stores… Amazing opportunity for the right person.