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The Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa)

Here at Wellfield Botanic Gardens, we have two gardens with vegetable beds: one in the Sensory Garden, and the other in the Children’s Garden. These beds change every year to bring in new plants, and we keep some past plants that have done well in the gardens. This season, the Children’s Garden vegetable beds include: Oriole Orange Swiss Chard, Vulcan Swiss Chard, Tam Hot Jalapenos, Slo-bolt Cilantro, Indian Coriander, Alaska Mix Nasturtium, Hollandia Purple Crown Dianthus, Ishikura Onion, Wethersfield Red Onion, and two types of Tomatillos.

The Tomatillo (Physalis ixocarpa) is a ground cherry in the nightshade family, and they are native to Mexico and Central Mexico. Tomatillos can reach up to 3 feet tall and wide. Physalis ixocarpa cannot pollinate themselves, therefore, they rely on pollinators to transfer pollen from neighboring plants in order to produce fruit. Fruit of this plant can vary in sizes and reach up to 2 inches in size. When ripe, the fruit swells and breaks through the husks. However, some recipes in traditional Mexican and Central American cuisine require the use of unripe tomatillos. This fruit is an annual that grows best in warm climates. Tomatillos come in various colors including green, yellow and purple. In the Children’s Garden we have both green and purple varieties. The purple variety of tomatillos turn purple when exposed to the sun. Pictured below is a purple tomatillo from the vegetable beds in the Children’s Garden. 

Tomatillos are a staple in these regions in the cuisine and culture. Aztecs are believed to have first cultivated the fruit and since then, the plant has been used all over the world. If you have ever consumed green salsa on tacos or with chips, you have enjoyed tomatillos! These fruits are used to make salsas to be enjoyed on a variety of food including tacos, enchiladas, burritos and more. They are also incorporated into dishes such as pozole verde; a stew consisting mainly of chicken, hominy and tomatillos. Tomatillos are a good source of nutrients, including Vitamins C and K. 

In the gardens here at Wellfield, the tomatillos have taken off and seem to have grown at a rapid rate. They are producing countless fruits and are getting ready to harvest. How do you use tomatillos? Drop us a comment and let us know, then visit Wellfield to check these out along with all the other plants in our vegetable beds!

Lead Horticulturist
Ariana Guerrero

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