Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Capsicum annuum - chili pequin

These came to me from my friend Debra, who got her plant from her Grandmother-in-law who brought her original plant from Mexico when she emigrated. Don't you love plant's with a history?

These tiny peppers - slightly larger than a piece of buckshot - pack a wicked hot punch and are the wild variety that all of our domestic sweet and hot peppers descend from.

In my yard, the plants are a perennial, coming back up from the root every year to grow to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, although I'm given to understand that there are wild varieties that hug the earth and spread like a ground cover. The fruits are very much beloved by wild birds, in this area mockingbirds in particular visit every morning. Birds don't have the sense receptors to taste hot, and are probably going after the vitamin B.

Further North, the plants can either be grown as an annual, or grown as a pot plant. Further South, with no winter kill, they have been known to grow to small trees about six foot tall in the wild, and up to 15 feet in greenhouse culture.

This is the first flush of blooms and fruit that I'll get this year. This will be followed by a mass of blooms that don't produce fruit, and a further mass of blooms that will produce fruit. This is due to the fact that peppers, along with their cousins the tomato, are NOT pollinated by bees or other insects... the blooms don't produce any nectar to attract them. Instead, they are pollinated by the slightest movement, provided by wind, rain, or passing animals... and then only when night-time temperatures are below 80 degrees. Whether or not the pollination takes place at night, or if the drop in temp creates some bio-chemical change is unclear... But what this means is that here, in central Texas, when our humidity provides too much insulation and the night-time temps barely drop 10 degrees through July, August, and most of September, there is no pollination going on. (All this info comes from PEPPERS; The Domesticated Capsicum, by Jean Andrews, so all you bee people can take it up with the scientific studies that she sited.)

As stated before, these tiny peppers are HOT. Usually within the 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville unit range, which puts them in the company of the Capsicum chinense (habaneros, scotch bonnets and manzanillas) and much hotter than your average jalapeno. Three or four of the tiny things are usually more than adequate for a batch of salsa. Some claim that they have an under taste of smoke or citrus... but all I've ever tasted is hot. In Mexico, this heat is referred to as arrebatado, meaning rapid or violent, due to the fact that's while it's very hot it doesn't last long.

Chile pequins, or peqin, or cliltepin, or bird peppers are the only agricultural product that is still primarily harvested in the wild. The few farms that raise them exist in South Texas and Mexico, where they are usually grown in shade houses, due to the fact that in the wild, the plants usually are shaded by tall grasses. The seeds are primarily spread by birds, and thanks to the local mockingbirds, my plant has put up about 20 more along the fence row, and a few more around the neighborhood.

I've given a few to a friend who plants them in bonsai pots and turns them into little trees.


  1. I love the way these bushes are so pretty with their little red fruits, but I wouldn't be able to eat them, for sure! I do like the bonsai in a pot idea though...that sounds sweet, to me!!! I am wondering though if you could put the peppers in a dish whole, while you cook, and then remove it, and it would just impart a smoky yummy flavor, without all the heat so much. I believe that is how the jamaican people do it with the scotch bonnet?????????

  2. julie, that's a good thought, but the peppers fall off the stem when you try to pluck them, so they are not complete when you use them, and all the heat will still escape... If I want a smokey yummy flavor in things I use chilipolte... smoked, seeded then canned jalapenos. They get a nice sweet taste...

  3. Sounds like a plant after my heart!Love hot hot, hot! We eat lots of salsa and mexican food around here -Very interesting!

  4. I haven't seen these kinds of peppers before. Sounds too hot for me, but they are certainly decorative!

  5. Anonymous2:27 PM

    I usually have wild chile pequins in my back yard but the light frost this past winter killed most off. I'm starting a new blog to try to get people to exchange seeds of South Texas edible plants. Bill oran San Diego, TX

  6. Anonymous2:29 PM