Chinese lantern plants (Alkekengi officinarum) don’t produce the most notable flowers, but they are well-loved for their ornamental calyces that house their tomato-like fruit and resemble paper lanterns. Easy to grow in a variety of climates and easy to love, Chinese lanterns are quickly becoming a favorite of gardeners around the world. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Chinese lantern flower meaning, their uses, growing tips, and suitable gifting occasions.
- About Chinese Lantern (Alkekengi officinarum)
- The Meaning & Symbolism of Chinese Lantern Flowers
- Uses and Benefits of Chinese Lantern Flowers
- How to Grow Chinese Lantern Flowers
- Caring for Chinese Lantern Flowers
- Best Companion Plants for Chinese Lantern Flowers
- Creative Uses for Chinese Lantern Flowers and Chinese Lantern Flower Crafts
- Chinese Lantern Flower FAQs
- Add a Glow to Your Garden with Chinese Lantern Flowers
Chinese Lantern Flowers – The Essentials:
|Scientific Name:||Alkekengi officinarum|
|Native Range:||China, Japan, Korea|
|Characteristics:||Papery lantern-like calyx enclosing bright red berries|
|Mature Height:||1 to 3 feet|
|Flowering Season:||Summer to fall|
|Growing Zones:||3 to 9|
|Sunlight:||Full sun to partial shade|
|Watering:||Average watering with well-draining soil|
|Soil:||Well-draining soil with average fertility|
|Fertilizing:||Fertilize in spring with a balanced slow-release fertilizer|
|Pruning:||Remove spent flower stalks and prune for shape|
|Symbolism:||Represents prosperity, abundance, and good luck|
About Chinese Lantern (Alkekengi officinarum)
The only species of its genus, Alkekengi officinarum belongs to the Solanaceae (nightshade) plant family in the subfamily Solanoideae within the Physaleae tribe.
Alkekengi officinarum was previously grouped in the Physalis plant genus, and this is why you may sometimes see it referred to as “Physalis alkekengi.”
The plant’s common names include Chinese lantern, Japanese lantern, bladder cherry, winter cherry, and strawberry groundcherry.
Alkekengu officinarum is a clumping, herbaceous perennial that can grow to about two feet in height. It has ovate leaves with wavy margins that spiral outward from their stems. These plants are most notable for their bright-red to reddish-orange, papery, lantern-shaped calyces (seed pods) that develop after whitish-yellow flowers. With five petals each, the flowers are star-shaped. However, they are small and inconspicuous.
After the flowers are spent, the showy, paper-lantern-like seed pods develop. As the plant matures, the paper walls of the seed pods begin to disintegrate into lacy margins, revealing a crimson tomato-like fruit glowing at the center.
When fully ripe, these fruits are edible but offer little flavor. All other parts of the plant are toxic to people and animals.
For more, see our in-depth guide to popular flowers that are toxic to cats, dogs, and other pets.
The native range of Alkekengi officinarum spans much of Europe and Asia.
Popular Types of Chinese Lantern Flowers
There are no cultivars of Alkekengi officinarum. Only the primary species plant and a single variety (Alkekengi officinarum var. franchetii) exist. Both are commonly planted in ornamental gardens.
The Meaning & Symbolism of Chinese Lantern Flowers
The genus name Alkekengi comes from the Arabic word for bladder cherry which refers to the fruits of the plants that are contained in husks. Its previous genus name Physalis comes from the Greek word for bladder and also refers to the same inflated husks of the fruits.
The plants’ variety of common names all refer to the showy, lantern, or cherry-like seed pods.
Meaning and Symbolism of Chinese Lantern Flowers
Chinese lantern flowers symbolize life within death. They are considered modern symbols of protection because of the way that the lantern-like seedpod protects its internal fruit.
In China, paper lanterns (similar to those resembled by the plant’s seed pods and fruits) are hung during festivals for good luck. During New Year’s celebrations, they also symbolize new beginnings. In the language of flowers, Chinese lanterns most commonly symbolize:
Prosperity and Good Luck:
Chinese lantern plants are often regarded as symbols of prosperity, abundance, and good luck in Chinese culture. The bright orange or red fruits resemble miniature lanterns associated with illumination and positive energy. Having Chinese lantern plants in the home or garden is believed to bring good fortune and blessings.
Protection and Warding off Evil:
In folklore, Chinese lantern plants are believed to possess protective qualities and can ward off evil spirits. It is common to find them displayed near entrances or windows to safeguard homes and bring positive energy. The bright color of the lanterns is thought to act as a deterrent to negative forces.
Longevity and Endurance:
Chinese lantern plants have a long lifespan and are known for their hardiness and ability to thrive in various environments. They symbolize longevity, resilience, and perseverance. The plant’s ability to produce lantern-like fruits that remain vibrant throughout autumn season further emphasizes these qualities.
Transformation and Transition:
The Chinese lantern plant goes through a transformation process as it matures. Initially, the lanterns are green and enclose the fruit, but as the fruit ripens, the husks dry out, revealing the bright orange or red seed pods inside. This transformation represents the cycle of life, growth, and change, symbolizing transformation and transition.
Cultural Significance of Chinese Lantern Flowers
Chinese lantern plants have a prominent place in the Bon or Obon Festival in Japan. During the festival, they are given as offerings to help guide the souls of the dead. The lantern-like fruits symbolize joy, celebration, and happiness. They are often incorporated into decorative displays, lantern festivals, and floral arrangements during these traditional Chinese holidays.
Uses and Benefits of Chinese Lantern Flowers
Chinese lanterns are popular in ornamental gardens, and they have an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
In Chinese herbal medicine, Alkekengi officinarum has been used to treat various ailments, such as sore throat, fever, and coughs.
In Unani medicine (traditional Perso-Arabic medicine), Chinese lantern fruits are dried and used as sedatives, liver correctives, diuretics, and antiseptics. In this herbal medicine tradition, the dried fruits are called “golden flowers.”
How to Grow Chinese Lantern Flowers
Plant in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9.
Choosing the Right Location
Chinese lanterns prefer full sun (in cool climates) and can thrive in partial shade (especially in warmer climates).
Due to their tendency to spread and naturalize, Chinese lanterns do well in informal and cottage-style gardens. They can be planted as ground cover in borders, beds, or even sloped gardens. They also thrive in containers, and this is the best choice if you wish to prevent the plants from spreading.
Chinese lanterns stay strongest in moist yet well-draining soil with a neutral pH (6.6 to 7.3).
These plants are resilient and spread quickly, and rich soil can encourage this fast growth. As a result, planting Chinese lanterns in poor soil can be advantageous for controlling growth.
Planting Tips and Techniques
The most common frustration with the Chinese lantern is its propensity to spread easily via its rhizomatic roots and seeds. If you don’t want this beauty to overtake your garden, it’s best to plant it as an annual yearly from seeds in containers.
Watering, Fertilizing, and Mulching
Chinese lanterns should be watered to maintain evenly moist soil. Typically, they grow well in poor soil. You can, however, add a balanced fertilizer to the roots in spring. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can trigger rapid growth. If in a hot, arid climate, you can consider adding a layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture.
Caring for Chinese Lantern Flowers
Pruning and Deadheading
Young plants can be pruned to encourage bushy growth. To control the spread of new plants, remove the seed pods once developed.
Pests and Diseases
Various beetles and other insects feed on Chinese lanterns, leaving plants riddled with holes. Treat with insecticide or neem oil. Additionally, prevent the development and spread of fungi by spacing plants properly and pruning dead/diseased plant parts.
Below Zone 3, Chinese lanterns are best grown as annuals in containers so that no overwintering is needed.
Best Companion Plants for Chinese Lantern Flowers
The following plants prefer similar growing conditions, soil, light, moisture, and other care as Chinese lanterns, making them excellent companion plants:
- Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) – This ornamental grass produces spreading mounds of golden, glossy, variegated, lance-shaped foliage.
- Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’) – Another ornamental grass, Japanese blood grass produces spikes of strikingly red-tipped, lance-shaped foliage in clumps of upright spikes.
- Bushy Aster (Aster dumosus ‘Sapphire’) – Another hands-off perennial, bushy aster produces large, star-shaped purple blossoms from late summer through late fall and will complement Chinese lantern during its season of interest as well.
- Butterfly Bush – (Buddleja davidii ‘Buzz Sky Blue’) – Butterfly bush is a great companion for a Chinese lantern that is planted in a sunny garden. This shrub will produce cone-shaped spikes of petite, purple flowers from midsummer until the first frost or late fall.
Creative Uses for Chinese Lantern Flowers and Chinese Lantern Flower Crafts
Chinese lantern flowers are most prized for their showy calyces. These can be harvested for arrangements of cut flowers. After removing all foliage from the stems, the seed pods can be dried by hanging them upside down in a cool, dry location. They are then popular for use in dried flower crafts, wreaths, and arrangements in addition to floral Halloween decor, thanks to their orange color.
Chinese Lantern Flower FAQs
How Long Do Chinese Lantern Flowers Bloom For?
Typically, Chinese lantern flowers bloom from late summer to early fall, with their seed pods lasting throughout autumn.
What Is the Ideal Climate for Growing Chinese Lantern Flowers?
Chinese lantern flowers grow in various climates from USDA hardiness zone 3 through 9.
Can Chinese Lantern Flowers Grow in Containers or Indoors?
In my experience, I’ve found Chinese lantern flowers to be an excellent choice for a container or indoor garden, as this prevents them from spreading uncontrolled.
How Often Should I Water My Chinese Lantern Flowers?
These flowers should always have moist (not soggy) soil. Water when the top inch of soil begins to feel dry and ensure the soil drains completely.
When Is the Best Time of Year to Plant Chinese Lantern Flowers?
Chinese lantern flower seeds can be sown in spring.
How Can I Protect My Chinese Lantern Flowers From Pests and Diseases?
Chinese lantern flowers can be protected from pests with neem oil or insecticides. Diseases like fungi can be prevented with proper spacing in the garden and by pruning dead or diseased growth.
How Can I Extend the Lifespan of My Chinese Lantern Flowers After They’ve Been Cut?
To extend the life of cut Chinese lantern flowers, put the stems in water right away, clean the stems regularly, change the water every two to three days, do not display them in direct sunlight, and add plant food to the water.
Add a Glow to Your Garden with Chinese Lantern Flowers
Whether you grow them in a cottage garden or pot containers full of Chinese lantern flowers, you’ll be in for a treat come fall when these plants’ bright-red and orange calyces develop. Just be careful not to let them take over!
Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.