Jerusalem cherry plant (scientific name Solanum pseudocapsicum) is often called Madeira winter cherry, Chrismas cherry, or just “winter cherry”. A tough little house plant with red berries like fruits, Jerusalem cherry is related to tomatoes and edible peppers. However, the fruit is toxic and not edible, so advise children not to pick them, and keep them out of the reach of pets.
These safety precautions aside, Jerusalem cherry makes a versatile indoor plant in fall and winter. After a quiet show of starry white flowers, round, cherry-sized fruits start out dark green, then become Halloween yellow, and slowly ripen to red as Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas. In spring, the plant can be pruned back and placed in a cool place to rest. After the last spring frost passes, move it outdoors and it should regrow without delay.
Plants more than 2 years old often become brittle, so it’s a good idea to propagate stem cuttings from year-old plants. Easier still, gather the ripe fruits and plant them in a pot or on any piece of moist ground in spring. Seedlings will almost certainly appear, and these can be dug, potted up, and adopted as replacements for aged specimens.
Native to Peru and Ecuador, they can survive frosts and cold weather. They generally live up to 10 years, producing fruit usually in their second or third year, and every year after that. They are congeners of tomatoes and the fruit is extremely similar to cherry tomatoes in taste and texture, and are therefore easily confused with them
Jerusalem Cherry fruits is toxic for cats and birds
Fruit of Jerusalem cherry plants are poisonous to cats and some birds. Although the fruits are poisonous, it is generally not life-threatening to humans. When eaten it can cause some vomiting and gastric issues. For cats, it can be more lethal because of the size of the animal. Normally cats won’t eat the fruits, but in case your cat accidentally consumes the fruits, please take it to the vet. Read more on First Aid for Jerusalem Cherry Poisoning.
How long can Jerusalem Cherry plant live?
The Solanum pseudocapsicum Jerusalem Cherry plant can live from 2 to 3 years, or indefinitely when propagated from seeds or rooted stem cuttings. Normally you will want to revitalize the plant by propagation for every 2 to 3 years to keep it tidy and beautiful.
How to care for Jerusalem Cherry plants
- Light: Bright, including direct sun for up to 4 hours a day.
- Temperature: Average to warm room temperatures (65–75°F/18–24°C).
- Fertilizer: From spring to early winter, feed monthly with a balanced houseplant food or a water-soluble tomato fertilizer. In late winter, no feeding necessary.
- Water: Allow soil to become dry to within 1 in/2.5 cm of the surface between waterings, but do not let the soil become so dry that the plant wilts.
- Soil: Any good potting soil.
- Repotting: Repot young plants as they become rootbound until the roots fill a 6 in/15 cm pot. In spring, repot year-old plants to refresh the soil.
- Propagation: Take stem cuttings in spring and root them in water or wet soil. Plants are also easily grown from seed gathered from shriveled fruits. Seedlings started outdoors in early summer bloom and set fruit the following fall. The seeds are pretty cheap and easy to buy from Amazon
Some display tips
Use sharp scissors to shape the plant before displaying it in a sunny window. A cloth wrapping placed over the pot can change with the fall and winter holidays, keying the plant to the most appropriate theme. This plant makes a great sidekick for a larger calamondin orange.
In addition to this species, less shrubby ornamental peppers (Capsicum frutescens) are sometimes sold as holiday plants. These are not as long-lived as Jerusalem cherry plants and should be discarded after their fruits are no longer attractive.
Common problems with Jerusalem Cherries and how to fix them
My plant blooms but does not set fruit.
Possible cause: Poor pollination.
How to fix: When grown outdoors, wind helps move pollen to where it is needed, but indoors there may not be enough air movement. Jiggle your Jerusalem Cherry plant a few times a day when they hold many open flowers or use a small dry paintbrush to dab the centers of the blossoms, which spreads the tiny grains of pollen.
The leaves are small and light green.
Possible cause: Insufficient fertilizer.
How to fix: Plants grown in pots need regular feeding. Increase the frequency of fertilizer application.
Jerusalem cherries plant does not bloom.
Possible cause: Insufficient light; too much supplemental light at night.
How to fix: These plants look best in winter when they enjoy strong outdoor light during the summer. They also fruit best in response to days becoming shorter in the fall. To support this process, leave your plant outside as long as possible, but do bring it in before temperatures drop to freezing.
The leaves are sticky; small insects are present.
Possible cause: Aphids, whiteflies, or spider mites.
How to fix: Gather fruits for replanting and dispose of the plant. Jerusalem Cherry plant is short-lived by nature, and it is easier to grow replacements than to restore the health of an infested plant.