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Plant of the Month: September 2015

Chili Peppers in Seattle
Capsicum spp.
SOLANACEÆ ; Nightshade Family

Seattle has a poor climate in general in which to cultivate thriving crops of heat-needing plants such as chili peppers. But the summer of 2015 broke records for heat, and I grew seven different clones successfully. This article describes a bit about the plants. The seven cultivars I grew were:

Anaheim? (acquired unlabeled)
Bolivian Rainbow
Dragon Cayenne
Super Chili
Thai Dragon

    There are anywhere from 10 to 30 species of Capsicum according to what authority is consulted. All are American, nearly all are tropical, or at least subtropical. Chili flavor is the main characteristic of Mexican cooking. It has been described as the world's second most popular spice, right after the unrelated Black Pepper (Piper nigrum).
    Consumer Reports magazine published a study in May 2015, advising people to buy only organic bell or hot peppers, due to otherwise high risk of getting pesticide residues that are unhealthy.
    Of Capsicum annum (syn. C. frutescens L.) there are thousands of cultivars, varying in heat from very mild to shockingly hot --though the very hottest cultivar, Bhut Jolokia, is from Capsicum chinense. In Seattle, to maximize warmth, they are ideal to grow in black pots. Sixteen cultivars that have been advised for pot culture include: Albino, Besler's Cherry, Christmas Candle, McMahon's Texas, Piccolo, Robert Crain, Sweet Pickle, Tarahumara, Tepín, Texas, Texas Bird, Thai Hot, Tiny Samoa, Weatherillii, Willing's Barbados, Wolbeck Gnom.
    Most people eat the fruit, green or ripe, fresh or dried, or made into sauce, as a condiment. Some kinds are more like vegetables --such as Jalepeno. The tender young growing tips and leaves are sometimes cooked as vegetables, too.
    Though Capsicum annum is the best known species, at least 12 others are also eaten, namely:

Capsicum baccatum L. (Small Pepper)
Capsicum Cardenasii L. Heiser & P.G. Sm.
Capsicum chacoense L. Hunz.
Capsicum chinense Jacq. (Yellow Lantern Chili. Aromatic Pepper. Bonnet Pepper)
Capsicum coccineum (Rusby) Hunz.
Capsicum Eshbaughii Barboza
Capsicum eximium Hunz.
Capsicum galapagoense Hunz.
Capsicum prætermissum Heiser & P.G. Sm.
Capsicum pubescens R. & P. 1799, non Dunal 1852 (Tree Pepper)
Capsicum Rabenii Sendtn.
Capsicum Tovarii Eshbaugh et al. 1983

    Despite the name Capsicum annum and most people in the North growing them as summer annuals, letting frost kill them, some cultivars are perennials. I have four (out of five originally) Bolivian Rainbow plants in their fourth summer, because in winter I bring their pot indoors. Maybe this cultivar is another species than C. annuum.
    Of the seven clones that I grew this year, the one that has struggled most to ripen red is Super Chili. As of late September, few of its fruits are red, most are white or yellow. Anaheim is second most delayed, with most still green; I am not even sure about its name; it may be another cultivar such as Cubanelle. Dragon Cayenne ripened better than these two, but all the four other clones ripened easily. My smallest specimens, best for smaller pots or windowsills, are Thai Dragon and Bolivian Rainbow. The largest, tall and space hogging, is Jalepeño.
    To thrive in a cool-summer northern place such as Seattle, these plants ought to be grown in pots, with rich potting soil, watered often with warm water, and be placed in warm locations. They need warmth more than they need mere light. A warm spot with less sun is better than a sunny spot with less warmth. Let me supply an example. In my garden, I put some pots at the base of a basalt rockery that gets only a few hours of direct sunlight. But that sun is in late afternoon, and warms the rocks, which radiate heat for hours afterward. Another site gets more hours of direct sunlight in the morning, yet is not as warm overall.
    Another method to maintain warmth is to employ a frost blanket or floating row-cover, ideally used at night. That will extend the season into fall.
    I should test growing Capsicum pubescens because it sounds promising. It is likely a hybrid (C. eximium x C. Cardenasii) that originated in Bolivia, requires coolness, and can attain 4 meters in height.
    If you grow, as I did, seven different kinds of pepper plants, then any saved seeds sown next year will likely consist of both true-to-type and hybrids.

Peppers grown in Seattle

Left to right: Anaheim? (a guess); Bolivian Rainbow (two, top); Thai Dragon (tiny; bottom); Apache; Super Chili; Jalepeño (green); Dragon Cayenne; scan by ALJ

Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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