Hot pepper plants belong to a diverse group of edible annuals that offers a variety of colors, shapes, and flavors. Their flowers can be white, yellow, or purple with a star- or bell-shape. After the blooms, edible peppers form in eye-catching shades of red, yellow, purple, orange, and brown in an entertaining array of shapes and sizes. The oval- or lance-shape foliage tends to be green but can, in some rare plants, be purple or have streaks or splashes of white.
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Growing Hot Peppers
Grown in vegetable gardens for generations, hot peppers are now becoming popular as ornamentals, too. Ranging in size from dwarf to full-size shrubs, peppers are suitable for patio pots, hanging baskets, and ornamental beds and borders. While the flowers tend to be understated, the pepper fruits themselves are colorful and often have playful shapes and textures. Some varieties also have darkly colored or variegated leaves.
Hot Peppers Care Must-Knows
Hot peppers grow best in summer heat. Although these plants are perennial in Mexico and parts of South and Central America where they originate, hot peppers are usually grown as summer annuals in the United States. They are sensitive to low temperatures, so if you live in an area with cold spring weather, start hot pepper seeds indoors about eight weeks before the last expected frost in your area and transfer outdoors when soil temperatures reach 65 degrees F.
Potted hot peppers can be overwintered inside if cut back and kept in a well-lit area. When working with hot peppers, always remember to wear gloves because the oil that gives the fruit its heat transfers easily to your hands.
Capsaicin gives hot peppers their fieriness. A scoring system called Scoville Heat Units (SHU) gives you a sense of how hot a pepper is when consumed. The lower the score, the less painful you'll find the heat. Scores above 500,000 are extremely hot. The bhut jolokia (ghost pepper), a hybrid from India, was the first pepper to score over a million SHU.
Breeders have since developed the Naga Viper at 1,349.000 SHU, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion at 2,009,231 SHU, and the Carolina Reaper coming in at 2,200,000 SHU. Pure capsaicin receives a score of 16 million SHU.
More Varieties of Hot Peppers
'Ancho 211' pepper
Capsicum annuum 'Ancho 211' bears mildly hot heart-shape fruits that are good for stuffing, making chiles rellenos, or drying. 90 days
'Holy Mole' pepper
This cultivar is a mildly hot pasilla-type pepper that was developed especially for mole sauce, but it can be used in other hot-pepper dishes as well. Green fruits mature to chocolate brown. 85 days
'Pretty in Purple' pepper
Capsicum annuum 'Pretty in Purple' bears attractive purple fruits, stems, and leaves. It's a great ornamental plant as well as edible hot pepper. Fruits turn red at maturity. 85 days
This variety is used to make the sauce with the same name. It is best adapted to the Southeast. 120 days