Answer: Tomatillos are indeed related to Chinese Lanterns, and both plants sprawl in an untidy fashion as you described. For both, a flower part called a "calyx" becomes enlarged as a loose, papery husk. They are from the same genus, but are different species.Physalis alkekengi
(Chinese lantern) is a perennial plant which is grown for its decorative bright orange,
"lanterns." The lantern is actually the calyx which forms around the ripened berry as the
loose, papery lantern. It is an ornamental plant, not edible.
Physalis ixocarpa (tomatillo, pronounced tom a teeyo) is an annual plant grown for its
edible fruits. The fruit usually swells to fill the papery calyx, which is removed before
cooking. It's usually picked when green and tart and used frequently in Mexican food. It
can also be picked when yellow to purple colored, when it is much sweeter.
Good luck with your Chinese lanterns!
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