The herbaceous perennial plant physalis alkekengi – better known as Chinese lantern flowers – is related to physalis peruviana, or the cape gooseberry. Although similar in structure, Chinese lanterns are much larger, and their outer covering is bright orange or red in appearance. These perennial flowers are indigenous to southeastern Europe and Japan, and grow their best in full sunlight and rich soil. Throughout their period of growth, the Chinese lantern flower will begin as a delicate, five-lobed corolla which will eventually become a faintly green husk that houses a small berry. Over time, the flower will turn an orange or red hue, and will become papery in its texture.
Chinese lantern flowers are frequently grown for their novel appearance; however, these flowers are also grown for a vast array of more useful tasks. For instance, many people like to use the flowers for arts and crafts, as these unique blossoms last for long periods of time when dried. They are often woven into wreaths or dried bouquets; they may be pressed into scrap books, jewelry or bookmarks; the intricate dried veins of the husk may also be gently dipped into glue or shellac to harden them, then they may be painted. The fruit of Chinese lanterns is – in small quantities – quite edible. The flavor of the fruit is considered refreshing and mild, and can be turned into sweet, exotic jellies, or simply eaten whole – some even like to eat them dipped in chocolate. Although the leaves and unripened berries of this plant are considered poisonous, many people still believe that in small doses they may have potent medicinal properties. These flowers are sometimes used to treat such things as facial paralysis, respiratory ailments, bed-wetting, fevers and even delayed labor.
Although Chinese lantern flowers may not have an especially large amount of symbolism attached to them, what they do have has made them into an endearing and joyful emblem of warmth. Given that these flowers enfold and defend the small, delicate fruit buried within their husks, they may be the perfect symbol for protection. Their fiery orange red hue denotes a passion for life, amiability, endurance and vitality. As a gift, these flowers are more commonly given dried or in silk forms. They are sometimes used in wedding bouquets or to decorate ceremonies as an alternative to the more common blossoms.