Jerusalem cherry plants (Solanum pseudocapsicum) are also referred to as Christmas cherry or winter cherry. Its name is said to be a misnomer, as the fruit it bears are not cherries but toxic berries that look like them (or cherry tomatoes), and the plant does not hail from Jerusalem but may have simply been planted in that area by someone after travelling abroad and acquiring seeds. It’s actually native to South America.
The Jerusalem cherry houseplant appears as an erect, bushy evergreen shrub. It can be obtained from the local nursery most any time of year and is listed as a winter-fruiting annual. Jerusalem cherry plants have dark green, shiny leaves which are elliptical and about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) long.
Jerusalem Cherry Facts
The Jerusalem cherry houseplant bears white flowers looking much like those of tomatoes or peppers. In fact, the plant is a member of the Nightshade family (Solonaceae), of which not only tomato and pepper are members, but also potato, eggplant, and tobacco.
The flowers precede long-lasting ovoid fruits of red, yellow and orange, which are ½ to ¾ inches (1.25-2 cm.) long. The brightly colored fruit are, indeed, the reason for Jerusalem cherry’s popularity and is sold as a houseplant during the dreary winter months when a “pop” of color is just what one needs – Christmastime being most common.
Despite their cheery colors, the fruit of the Jerusalem cherry houseplant is toxic and should be kept out of the reach of curious children and pets. Any part of the plant that is ingested can cause poisoning and even death.
Jerusalem Cherry Care
When growing Jerusalem cherries, the plants may be grown outdoors just as you would a tomato, but should be brought inside before the danger of frost, with 41 F. (5 C.) the lowest temperature the plant will tolerate. Jerusalem cherry care is possible as a hardy perennial in USDA zones 8 and 9.
Either purchase the plant from a nursery or propagate via seed or shoot cuttings. Sow the seed in early spring after frost and you should have a mature fruiting Jerusalem cherry houseplant by late fall.
Growing Jerusalem cherries should be planted in a rich well draining soil. Water Jerusalem cherry plants as needed and fertilize regularly. Feed your plant a liquid fertilizer (5-10-5) every two weeks as the plant is growing.
As a houseplant, situate Jerusalem cherry plants in full sun, if possible, although they will tolerate moderate light. These plants are known to drop their foliage and flowers if they get too warm (above 72 F./22 C.), so watch those temps and mist the foliage often.
To ensure fruit set if you are growing the plant indoors (where there are no pollinators), shake the plant gently while in flower to distribute the pollen. Once the fruit is well set, reduce the fertilization schedule and take care not to over-water.
In the spring, once the fruit have dropped off, cut this ornamental perennial back to stimulate vigorous growth. If you live in a frost-free area and have been growing your Jerusalem cherry as a houseplant, prune the plant drastically after fruiting and then plant it outside in a sunny spot in your garden. Chances are good, that your Jerusalem cherry plant will grow into a 2 to 3 foot (0.5-1 m.) ornamental shrub.
In areas of frost, you will need to dig the plant up every year, repot and grow indoors until it warms outside and it can be moved again.