Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
The long, broad cultivation history of the pepper best explains why its fruits come in a myriad of forms tastes and colors, whether they are big or small, hot or sweet, red or yellow.
Native to tropical America, these annuals have been grown and selected by Native Americans since pre-history times. In fact, their specific region of origin is still unknown due to distribution by man. Peppers became available to Europeans when the new and old worlds connected. Since then, many unique selections have been developed in Europe—particularly in warm Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy and Greece where they grow well.
Peppers are bushy plants with rigid, brittle stems and thin, often broad, dark green leaves. Their flowers are inconspicuous, five-petaled and white. Peppers have firm, fleshy, hollow fruits that may be harvested green or allowed to mature to red, orange, yellow, purple-brown, or near ivory, depending on the selection. On the interior they are lined with spongy ribbing which supports many small, flattened, rounded seeds.
Peppers are divided into several cultivation groups defined by fruit size, number and shape. These include the Cerasiforme (round, cherry-like fruits), Conoides (erect, single, conical fruits), Fasciculatum (fruits held in distinct clusters or bundles), Grossum (bell-shaped fruits) and Longum (long, single fruits as with chilies and jalapeños) groups.
Green fruits have a sharper taste and mature are sweeter, but the heat of a pepper is what most are interested in. Many peppers are spicy hot. Their heat is produced by a chemical called capsaicin measured in units called Scoville units against the Scoville scale. The purer the capsaicin, the hotter the pepper and the higher the Scoville rating. Pepper seeds carry more heat than the flesh of the fruit.
Peppers are warm season vegetables that are easy to grow, if you can provide them with the correct conditions. Full sun and warmth, fertile, perfectly drained soil and regular feeding are required for good growth and fruit production. Peppers generally take 60 to 90 days to harvest. Some vascular wilts, tobacco mosaic virus and fungal problems can befall them, but overall they are not needy. Proper spacing will keep diseases at bay and help with fruit production, so plant according to the grower’s guidelines.
Peppers can be ornamental too, so enjoy them as bedding or container plants as well as vegetable garden standbys.
Scoville Scale: http://www.chilliworld.com/FactFile/Scoville_Scale.asp