James H. Schutte
Plant Common Name
Aji, Datil, Goat Pepper, Habanero, Jamaican Hot, Rocotillo, Scotch Bonnet
Hot pepper lovers are passionate about the super spicy peppers in this species. In fact, some of the variable fruits in Capsicum chinense are some of the hottest in the world. Grown for their pungent flavor and fruity aroma, they are mostly associated with the cuisines of Mexico and the Caribbean and may be called Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, Rocotillo, Congo Pepper, Bonda Man Jacques, Red Dominica, Goat Pepper, Jamaican Hot, Trinidad Seasoning Pepper, Datil and Adjuma. Many of these common embody different cultivated forms, such as Habaneros and Scotch Bonnets, each with their own attributes and heat levels.
Originating from the tropical Americas, these short-lived perennials or annuals have been grown, selected and distributed by Native Americans since prehistory times. Their area of origin was likely the Amazon Basin and domestication probably originated in tropical Peru. Peppers became available to Europeans when the new and old worlds connected. The plants of Capsicum chinense grow best where summers are hot and steamy, so they have always been favored in more southern zones.
Peppers are bushy plants with rigid, upright stems and thin, large, often wrinkled medium green leaves. Their flowers are five-petaled, white or pale green with purple anthers. There are usually two to six flowers per stem, a trait which sets this species apart from other peppers. The shape of these peppers is enormously variable. They range from rounded and small like birdshot, to elongated, lantern, bonnet or bell-shaped. They may be harvested green or allowed to mature to full color. Mature fruits exhibit many colors including chocolate brown, red, orange, yellow, or purple, depending on the selection. On the interior they are divided by spongy ribbing which supports many small, flattened, rounded seeds.
These peppers are generally very hot, but there are cultivated selections which exhibit little heat. Their heat is produced by a chemical called capsaicin, which is measured in Scoville units against the Scoville scale (http://www.chilliworld.com/FactFile/Scoville_Scale.asp). The purer the capsaicin, the hotter the pepper, and the higher the Scoville rating. The peppers of Capsicum chinense range from 80, 000 to 300,000 Scoville units and jalapeño peppers are rated at about 5,000 Scoville units. The worlds hottest pepper, the Indian Capsicum ‘Naga Jolokia’ (probably a hybrid between C. chinense and C. frutescens), rates in at over 1,000,000 units.
Peppers are warm season vegetables that are easy to grow if provided full sun, warmth, and fertile soil with good drainage. If supplemental food is needed, choose a food specially formulated for tomatoes and peppers. Capsicum chinense seeds are a little slower to germinate than other peppers. The plants prefer very warm conditions and the fruits may take a little longer to mature, particularly in temperate climates. These peppers take 80 to 120 days to harvest from seed. Some vascular wilts and fungal problems can befall them, but proper spacing will keep these diseases at bay and help with fruit production.
Plant these peppers in the vegetable garden or containers filled with edible plants. They are ornamental, so they are also ideal for mixed borders. They are dangerous to children, because the heat from the peppers can burn the skin, eyes and mouth, so do not plant them where young ones play.