The Jerusalem Cherry Plant is a small perennial bush that is part of the Solanaceae family – the same family that tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants belong to. The Jerusalem Cherry, Solanum Pseudocapsicum, is actually a species of nightshade – a diverse group of flowering plants – that also happens to bear mildly poisonous fruit.
Sometimes referred to as the “Winter Cherry” or “Christmas Cherry”, its name is said to be a misnomer as the plant does not really produce cherries, but instead toxic berries that look very similar.
The Jerusalem Cherry appears as a small, upright evergreen shrub with orange or red fruit that contrast well and stand out against its dark green leaves. The plant is easily obtained from your local nursery and is a favored ornamental plant, especially during Christmas time.
The Jerusalem Cherry is surprisingly easy to grow and care for, however, extra caution should be taken, especially if you have pets or children, as they might accidentally pick and ingest its toxic berries. If you want something that really stands out during the cold and dreary months, then this plant is definitely a good pick.
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About the Jerusalem Cherry
- The plant is actually native to South America. It was most likely brought to Jerusalem by someone who was travelling abroad and happened to acquire its seeds.
- The Jerusalem Cherry also blooms, mostly during the warmer seasons. In bloom, these plants are covered by white, star-shaped flowers which precede its fruit that start to appear come the season of fall.
- This plant can live up to 10 years if cared for right. It starts producing fruit usually after its 2nd or 3rd year, and every year after that.
- Once ripe, the Jerusalem Cherry’s fruit looks very similar to cherry tomatoes and can be easily confused for them. Take care as to not stack them together if you have both.
- Solanocapsine is the toxin of the Jerusalem Cherry. It is close to alkaloids like atropine and solanine and while they are not really life-threatening for humans, they are potent enough to possibly trigger gastric problems such as vomiting and gastroenteritis.
- The Jerusalem Cherry is a tenacious little plant that is tolerant to cold temperatures, but will not survive frost. It mainly prefers average or neutral temperatures and is much more inclined towards tropical conditions.
- Though not common, the plant can sometimes be infested with Aphids, White Flies, and Spider Mites. Spraying it with tepid water usually solves the problem with light infestation. Otherwise, consider using insecticide like organic neem oil; it usually rids most pests.
Jerusalem Cherry Features: An Overview
- The Jerusalem Cherry is a small, upright shrub that grows hardy in USDA zones 8 and above.
- The plant can be grown both indoors and outdoors, but doing so can affect its bloom. Indoors, it is mainly an ornamental plant that really makes its colors pop from October up until January.
- The Jerusalem Cherry doesn’t grow to be very big; fully matured, it can reach up to 2 feet in height and have narrow, wavy leaves that are about 3 inches long.
- The plant enjoys moist soil, but not soggy one. Water regularly to keep the soil moist and cutback in spring once it bears fruit and they start falling off.
- The Jerusalem Cherry actually tolerates direct sunlight and helps it along to bloom. Situate it at a location where it can get either direct sunlight or is under partial shade. Choosing to plant it outside reduces overall maintenance requirements as natural sunlight will be sufficient.
- This plant prefers mild temperatures and around 40 – 50% relative humidity. Inside, it enjoys average room temperatures between 18-24°C (65-75°F), but can also tolerate the heat of the summer sun if planted outside. While it can tolerate the cold, it won’t tolerate frost; during the onset of fall, have the plant somewhere that can keep the temperature around 16°C(60°F) as this will help preserve the longevity of its fruit.
- It’s not too picky when it comes to soil composition. Good potting-mix or any well-known all-purpose soil will do the trick. Instead, shift your focus to ensure that the drainage is good to avoid overwatering and root rot.
Growing Jerusalem Cherry
Ideally, the best time to begin growing your very own Jerusalem Cherry is in Spring, once the danger of frost has passed. Sow the seed early in spring and it should be mature and ready to bear fruit by late fall.
Once set, water the plant regularly as to ensure that the soil is kept moist and does not dry out. It’s important to maintain consistent watering patterns up until the point it either begins to bloom or bear fruit, or once the colder seasons start coming in. Take note, if grown in pots, then also feed regularly with liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks during the growing period.
Watering and feeding is one thing, but to ensure that it gets sufficient sunlight is another. Whilst location helps play a big part in this, over and under exposure of the plant to light will have telltale signs and can potentially affect its bloom and fruit production.
For one thing, if you intend to grow it indoors, don’t forget to gently shake it during flower time to scatter the pollen; if grown indoors and there aren’t yet any flowers, then it might be that the plant isn’t getting enough sunlight.
The Jerusalem Cherry cannot bear fruit without pollen, so if it does not yet have flowers, then chances are it won’t have fruit until it does. If the leaves begin to yellow during the warmer seasons, then it might be a sign of either being over watered or being over exposed to sunlight.
If this is the case, then consider cutting back on watering or having it under partial shade. If new leaves appear smaller than old ones, then that can be an indicator of the need to have the soil changed.
Lastly, alteration of watering patterns and amount of exposure to light can either stagnate or boost the Jerusalem Cherry’s growth. Depending on whether you live in cooler regions or more temperate ones, choosing when and where to grow the plant helps facilitate the amount of hands-on work one needs to have with it in order to ensure that it grows fast and healthy.
Pruning immediately after its fruit-bearing time makes it grow vigorously; planting it outside after pruning under good sunlight will yield high success rates that it grows into a 2 to 3-foot ornamental shrub.
Watering Jerusalem Cherry
The important thing to remember with watering the Jerusalem Cherry is to do it frequently during the growing period.
One should never let the soil dry out. Water regularly during the warmer seasons and begin cutting back once the temperatures get colder or at least once it starts to develop buds. Cutting back on water once it begins to flower will encourage it to bloom.
As a good reminder, when growing, water frequently and enough to keep the soil moist and once it matures and starts producing flowers and fruit, reduce watering when the flowers start blooming or once fruit has begun to fall off. If done cyclically, then this can make the Jerusalem Cherry grow strong and healthy and make it last for years.
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Propagating Jerusalem Cherry
You can propagate Jerusalem Cherry via seed or cuttings. Though you can attempt to propagate using cuttings, this method is more complicated and has limited chance of success.
If you would attempt this method, then it’d be a good idea to plant the cuttings in spring – root them in moist soil and water as needed. You may need to cut back on watering since cuttings often take moisture from the wound.
Sowing from seeds is more tedious, but does tend to produce a more symmetrical plant and has a higher chance of success.
To begin, allow newly produced fruits to wither and remove them from the plant. Dry the fruit then take the seeds to keep in storage until February or March. Next, sow the seeds in moist soil in either a tray or open container and cover up with plastic. Place the set-up over or near a heat source to promote germination.
Once seedlings form, ensure that your set-up has more ventilation. Make sure that condensation does not drip onto the plants. Come spring, the seedlings should now be big enough to be moved to separate pots. From here, follow basic care guidelines and you should have new, young Jerusalem Cherries after a few months.
The Jerusalem Cherry is a very festive looking plant indeed. It’s not the easiest to propagate, but it’s also not the hardest to take care of once growing. The thing with this plant is to encourage faster and healthier growth, then one must be hands-on with it.
Handling of the plant changes with the seasons and is important to take note of because it does determine when and if the plant will bloom and bear fruit – which is kind of its main attraction.
A beautiful ornamental plant, the Jerusalem Cherry is both decorative and, not to be overlooked, toxic. While it serves magnificently as adornment which speaks loads about holiday feels, do keep in mind that it can potentially harm you and any member of the household, so place it somewhere safe and secure and be sure to give word out for people not to eat its bright fruit.