September and October are the months of seasonal color, even in Southern California where it can be a bit subtle. Indoor or out, now is the time to punch up that color with the power of the pepper! Ornamental peppers (Capsicum spp.) are festive members of the pepper family that can spark up a room, container or garden spot in a flash with a visual fiery tango, Caribbean conga, or sultry salsa beat.

All peppers go through a color change typically from green straight to red as they ripen. The ornamentals are true chameleons with some varieties morphing through as many as four colors. This is their treasure as dozens of fruits cover these compact plants in multiple colors all at the same time. Shapes are equally varied ranging from round and teardrop to long, conical and curly. And the number one question regarding Ornamental Peppers is: Are they poisonous or edible? They are definitely not poisonous. All members of the Capsicum genus are edible if your palate can handle the heat, and some of these little ornamentals are firebombs! The reason they are considered “not for consumption” is they have been grown as an ornamental just like a Chrysanthemum or any other non-food crop. This means they have likely been treated with a systemic insecticide to produce the best looking, pest free decorative plant. For this reason, consider them inedible. Save some seeds and grow your own next year and treat them as a vegetable pepper and dig in – if you can take it!

As a houseplant, provide a good sunny south or east facing window and keep soil evenly moist. Outside, give full sun and regular deep waterings; fertilizing is not necessary when plants are in fruit. Compact plants from 9″ to 14″ tall and wide are excellent border and pathway accents. Many new varieties are also “non-pungent” making them child and pet safe avoiding an accidental oral dose of fire by the curious. Some varieties to look for:

Chilly Chili – Fruits to 2.5″ long, thin but blunt nosed – colors green to yellow to orange to dark red. Non-Pungent.

Red Missile – Fruits 2″ long, tapered conical – colors cream to orange to bright red. Non-Pungent.

Treasure Red – Fruits to 2″ long, tapered conical – colors white to yellow to orange to bright red. Hot!

Medusa – Fruits to 2.5″ long, thin twisted conical – colors ivory to yellow to orange to bright red. Non-Pungent

Original Article by Bob Reidmuller
printed in Garden Compass magazine, Sept/Oct 2003
Used with permission.