Physalis philadelphica is a member of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family.
Varieties: Little breeding work has been done on the tomatillo. The only known cultivar is "Rendidora," from Mexico, although growers have attempted to improve on it by their own selection. Little has been accomplished, however, so tomatillo remains a crop with great variablility in plant habit, fruit size, earliness, and other characteristics. Tomatillo is primarily a self-incompatible, out-crossed plant, although some selfing is known to occur.
The tomatillo is of Mexican origin and is related to the husk tomato. It is an annual low growing, sprawling plant usually not more than 2 feet high. The tomatillo has small, sticky, tomato-like fruits enclosed in papery husks. They are 1 to 3 inches in diameter and green or purplish in color.
Marketing. There are two well defined markets: organic/specialty and regular bulk commercial. Purple ones are distinctive.
Current production and yield. The tomatillo is an important vegetable crop in Mexico (11,000 ha) and is grown in small plantings in the warmer areas of California. Commercial cropping has been successful along the central and south coasts, as well as in the low deserts and the central valley.
In California, in 1987, the County Agricultural Commissioners reported tomatillos grown in Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. San Bernardino County was the only one reporting actual figures. It reported a total production of 363 tons on 50 acres with a total value of $175,000. The yield was 7.26 tons/acre with a price of $482/ton.
Between 1980 and 1988 in California reported tomatillo acreage has increased steadily but production has varied considerably, as follows:
Year Harvested Acreage Production (tons) Value ($1000)
1980 38 213 69
1981 69 350 260
1982 58 342 238
1983 68 524 388
1984 105 1160 1143
1985 138 1170 603
1986 136 985 488
1987 50 363 175
Use. Tomatillo is widely used as a principal ingredient in green salsa, but also in soups and stews. It should be harvested in a developed but unripe stage. Quality criteria include the intensity of green color of the fruits and the freshness of the husk. Fruit which begins to yellow is of low culinary value.
Nutrition. The tomatillo is similar to the tomato in vitamin A, and second only to mushrooms in niacin. It also provides fair amounts of vitamin C. The fruits are high in ascorbic acid (36 mg/1,000 grams).
Climatic requirements. It is a close relative of tomatoes and thus a warm season crop. It is fairly drought tolerant.
Propagation and care. Culture is very similar to that for tomatoes or peppers. Plantings are generally direct seeded, although tomatillo transplants well when necessary to fill in stands. Plant spacing and population density vary considerably among growers. Row spacings of 40 inches (single row) to 7 feet (two rows) have been observed. In-row spacings vary from 12 to 36 inches. Very little work has been done in the United States to refine cultural practices on tomatillos. Cultivation can be tricky because of its low growing, spreading nature. First harvest is generally 70 to 80 from seeding with a harvest period which can exceed 60 days. Fruits are harvested selectively by hand as they attain market size. They are not ripe until the fruit begins to break through the husk. The husks need to be dry at the time of shipping, so if they are not already dry at the time of harvest you need to dry them down after harvest. Preferred fruit size is about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Specific recommendations on storage temperatures are lacking, but probably would be similar to fresh tomatoes, i.e. a minimum of 55° F.
Pest and weed problems. Tomatillos can be hit pretty hard by flea beetles, which cause symptoms similar to those on tomatoes except they often eat right through the leaf since it is thinner than tomato leaves. Despite heavy damage the plants can still produce prolifically.
Harvest and postharvest practices. USDA storage recommendations are 55° to 60°F (13° to 15°C) at 85 to 90 percent relative humidity, with an approximate storage life of three weeks.
W. Atlee Burpee & Co., 300 Park Avenue, Warmister, PA 18974
Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Hwy, Albany, OR 97321
Shepherd's Garden Seeds, Shipping Office, 30 Irene Street, Torrington, CT 06790
Native Seeds, 2509 N. Campbell Avenue #325, Tuscon, AZ 85719
Shephens, James. Minor Vegetables. Univ. of Florida Cooperative Extension Bulletin SP-40. June 1988, 123 pp.
Yamaguchi, Mas. World Vegetables. AVI Publishing Company, Inc. Westport, Conn. 1983. 415 pp.
Johnson, Hunter. "Tomatillo." Vegetable Briefs #244, Univ. of California Cooperative Extension; April 1985. 1 pp.
Cantwell, Marita. "Postharvest Handling of Specialty Crops: Tomatillo." Perishables Handling, Univ. of Calif. Cooperative Extension, April 1987, 1 pp.
Dremann, Craig. Ground Cherries, Husk Tomatos & Tomatillos. Redwood City Seed Company, Redwood City, CA. 1985. pp 1-2, 11-14.
Morton, J.F. Fruits of Warm Climates.. Creative resource Systems, Winterville NC. 1987. pp. 434-437.
California Agricultural Statistics Service, CDFA. Agricultural Commissioner Data. 1980 through 1990 annual reports.
Tropical Products Transport Handbook. USDA Agric. Handbook 668. 1987.
Compiled by Claudia Myers, UC Small Farm Center.
Reviewed by Hunter Johnson, 9/30/89.
Reviewed by Mark Van Horn, 12/89
Figure 1. The tomatillo is a low growing, sprawling plant. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).
Figure 2. A close up of the tomatillo flower. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).
Figure 3. The tomatillo fruit at market maturity. (Photo by Hunter Johnson).
Tomatillo leaflet, SMC-034
Add to Current Production and Yield:
In 1990 in California tomatillos were reported to be harvested from 138 acres with a total value of production of $1,009,900. San Bernardino County reported an average yield of 8.93 tons/acre at a price of $570/ton on 56 acres.
Add to references:
Moriconi, D.N., M.C. Rush, and H. Flores. Tomatillo: A Potential Vegetable Crop for Louisiana. In Advances in New Crops, Jules Janick and James E. Simon, eds., Timber Press, Portland Oregon. 1990. pp 407-413.
Change the reference: California Agricultural Statistics Service, CDFA. to by 1980 through 1990 annual reports.