What is in a name? Peppers

It’s a cool rainy morning and not one to be out in the garden unless you want to get really wet. It is also almost mid July and the summer harvest in not far away. At least I hope!

It means I need to think about what I planted and how I will use or save the fruits of my labor. It also means I need to think about when to harvest what I planted. I realized it is important to know the names of each of my varieties. I have 16 different plants from the pepper family – 3 varieties and at the moment they all have green leaves and small white flowers that hang down from the stem.  So which is which?

Here is what I know about the pepper plant: the pepper is part of the Solanaceas (Nightshade family). There are no single characteristics that are common in the group. It includes ornamentals like Nicotiana (tobacco), Bella Donna (deadly nightshade) and food like potatoes, tomato and the peppers we like to eat. The pepper genus is Capsicum which produces capsaicin a chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation – the hot in hot peppers. There is one exception in the family which is the bell pepper. It does not produce capsaicin due to a recessive form of the gene that eliminates this chemical allowing this pepper to have a sweet taste.

Just so you know the term pepper is miss leading. It was giving to this genus when Christopher Columbus brought the plant back to Europe. At that time Black pepper from the plant Piper nigrum, that originated from India, was a highly sort after condiment. The Europeans applied the name to all know spices with a hot and pungent taste so they just extended it to this new genus Capsicum and we now use the common name for this plant as as the black pepper spice we put on our food. Who knew?!

IMG_6037.jpgSo what did I plant and which ones are going to be hot. Here is where both close observation and detail recording (taking good notes) comes into play in the garden. I stuck 16 plants in the ground with little marker at the end of the rows on May 27th. After days of heat, rain and watering those markers have faded and begun to disappear under the soil. I did find them, well at least two of the markers but my garden notes also help me sort out what plant was what. (I also realized that it would be good to draw out a picture of each garden bed and what is planted where since my old brain to not always holding all the details any more.) But here is what I pieced together –

I planted three types of peppers:

  • Hot Pepper Fish
  • Maule’s Red Hot
  •  Candy Apple

A quick walk between rain drops helped me begin to tell the different

Hot Fish Pepper – I can identify this plant quickly due to the variegated leaves. The pepIMG_6046.jpgper is also stripped with green and white. The fruit is a long narrow shape. This pepper connects back through the African American history. It has a great story that I wrote about here. This pepper gains heat like many others but letting it stay on the vine long into the season. It will become really hot if that is your taste. (Currently this one in my garden has no flowers or pepper yet.)   Garden Betty also wrote about this pepper in 2014 and she has some great photos: https://www.gardenbetty.com/fish-pepper-a-peculiar-pepper-with-deep-roots-in-african-american-history/

Candy Apple Pepper – This is a sweet pepper and is a larger bell shaped pepper that goes from IMG_6044.jpggreen to red. It is suppose to be an early maturing pepper arriving at 71 days. They went into the ground as small plants on May 27 (potted inside on March 11). As I count that has been about 113 days of growing, about 70 days outside. This plant is healthy with flowers but no sign of actual peppers yet.  Each year I try a sweet pepper of some kind and each year they look wonderful but taste awful. They are always bitter to the taste. It could be our Minnesota cool since I know that pepper like hot days. I am hoping this year might be different since we have had so many more hot days. We will have to wait and see.

Maule’s Red Pepper – This is a hot pepper by name. It’s history is connected to Philadelphia in 1903 when William Henry Maule introduced this plant from his seed company. It grows to a red cayenne-type pepper and is suppose to be good for hot sauce and dried red pepper flakes. It’s plant stem is dark purple and it is about 18 inches tall. It also says it is to be ready in 80 days from IMG_6040.jpgtransplant. This is 70 days out from transplant and indeed there are peppers growing – one nice long pepper – still very green but giving us a sense that it will indeed turn red in a few weeks and there are more to follow.

IMG_6041

Peppers can prove to be very interesting if you stop and read up about them and look closely at the plant as it grows. It also is clear that names are important. They can give you all kinds of information but they can also be miss leading if we are not careful. Knowing the common name is not enough in our world of expanding varieties. It can be miss leading to say I planted 16 pepper plants and someone is hoping that they are all sweet pepper for cooking -when there are only 6 bell pepper out of the sixteen.

Here in Minnesota I am looking forward to having both hot and sweet peppers sometime in August?  How about you?

About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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