We have purified physapubescin, a predominant steroidal lactone, from medicinal plant Physalis pubescens L., commonly named as "hairy groundcherry" in English and "Deng-Long-Cao" in Chinese. Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL)-null 786-O, RCC4 and A498 Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) cell lines expressing high levels of Hypoxia Inducible Factor (HIF)-2α are more sensitive to physapubescin-mediated apoptosis and growth inhibitory effect than VHL wild-type Caki-2 and ACHN RCC cell lines. Restoration of VHL in RCC4 cells attenuated the growth inhibitory effect of physapubescin. Physapubescin decreases the expression of HIF-2α and increases the expression of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein homologus protein (CHOP), which leads to up-regulation of death receptor 5 (DR5), activation of caspase-8 and -3, cleavage of poly (ADP-Ribose) polymerase (PARP) and apoptosis. Under hypoxia conditions, the apoptotic and growth inhibitory effects of physapubescin are further enhanced. Additionally, physapubescin synergizes with TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) for markedly enhanced induction of apoptosis in VHL-null 786-O cells but not in VHL wild-type Caki-2 cells. Physapubescin significantly inhibited in vivo angiogenesis in the 786-O xenograft. Physapubescin as a novel agent for elimination of VHL-null RCC cells via apoptosis is warranted for further investigation.