Kid Friendly? - Edible fruit. Think tiny tomatillo. Not sure about the foliage toxicity.
Garden friendly? - It's edible and also has flowers which will attract pollinators.
Look alike's? - The horse nettle, which is NOT edible, has similar looking leaves and fruit, but the horse nettle's fruit lacks the distinctive casing around the fruit.
This is a Sonoran Desert native plant that is related to the tomatillo, which will be obvious if you get a chance to see the fruit. The fruit with be greenish yellow with that greenish, papery outer covering over the fruit itself, just like a mini-tomatillo. If you are lucky, like me, this will show up in your yard on its own.
As you weed, if you see the remains of dried out fruit that looks like small tomatillos, keep an eye out in late March and early April for the leaves from new plants to come up in the same area.
|groundcherry - I think...|
If you want to make a more ground-cherry-friendly location, leave a few weeds or other shading materials in the area. I have almost always found my ground cherries popping up in areas where I let the weeds go a bit and there was more shade to be had underneath. Aside from the lucky plant above that happens to be growing on the outskirts of my planted garden, most of my ground cherries have popped up in areas that have received no water at all from me. However, they tend to be in places that received a little extra run off during the monsoon seasons.
The flowers won't start showing up for a while yet (I'll post pictures when they do), so you may need to be kind to your weeds for a few more weeks until you can pick out the ground cherries from the rest. The above picture is what I think are new ground cherry leaves. I'm never entirely sure myself until I start to see the flowers come out. My own variety of ground cherries all have slightly wider leaves than some pictures of local ground cherries, but I believe they are still a local variety.
The fruit will ripen sometime in late summer or fall. You can eat the fruit cooked, when unripe, or raw when ripe. Same as store-bought tomatillos, essentially, except much, much smaller. The fruit can be from greenish-tan to yellowish-orange when ripe, depending on the variety.
One word of warning: as with all things involving eating native plants, make sure of your plant identification. Don't take my word for things - I am most certainly not a botanist! But this is a native plant that's definitely worth checking out in your own yard!
Most of my information on this plant came from the following two sources:
Sonoran Desert Food Plants, by Charles W. Kanehttp://www.fireflyforest.com/flowers/3448/physalis-acutifolia-sharpleaf-groundcherry/