The nightshade family Solanaceae holds exceptional economic and cultural importance. The early diversification of Solanaceae is thought to have occurred in South America during its separation from Gondwana, but the family’s sparse fossil record provides few insights. We report 52.2-million-year-old lantern fruits from terminal-Gondwanan Patagonia, featuring highly inflated, five-lobed calyces, as a newly identified species of the derived, diverse New World genus Physalis (e.g., groundcherries and tomatillos). The fossils are considerably older than corresponding molecular divergence dates and demonstrate an ancient history for the inflated calyx syndrome. The derived position of these early Eocene fossils shows that Solanaceae were well diversified long before final Gondwanan breakup.