CAPSICUM ANNUUM (winter pepper)

This is a neat, bushy pot plant notable for its bright red berries. In modern cultivars, these are often formed as early as late July, so that the old name winter pepper now hardly applies. However, it is possible for plants to retain their fruits all through Christmas and well into the New Year.

The species is notoriously variable and there are forms with fruits of many different sizes and shapes. The berry is usually more elongated and chilli-like than in solanum. and although it may often be hot and peppery to the taste, it is not poisonous as in the case of solanum. The berries of ornamental peppers are not as well flavoured as the culinary type. There are numerous named cultivars from which to choose, but plants bought from florists are rarely named. When buying it is wise to choose plants with berries only just forming or in a green to cream stage. In most cases, there is a transition of colour, from green through cream to orange and finally red. as the berries mature and ripen. This is one of their attractive qualities. A cultivar called ‘Red Pangs’ has elongated berries, often slightly curled. which are borne in great profusion. There is ‘Variegated flash’ and similar cultivars with variegated foliage blotched with cream and purple. This cultivar is unusual in having very dark purple berries.

The plants like a bright, airy position where it is cool but not chilly. In excessive warmth and where temperatures change rapidly, the foliage may turn yellow and fall. The same occurs if they are ovcrwatered, and therefore the compost should be kept just moist. Eventually. there will be deterioration and shrivelling of both leaves and berries. The plant should then be discarded since, unlike solanum. they are annuals and cannot be grown for another year. Capsicums are easier to grow from seed than solanums, and set berries much more readily. Good plants can often be obtained from window-sill sowings, but do not attempt to save seed. Buy seed of named cultivars or hybrids from seedsmen. Saved seed will rarely give plants true to type, although there may be some in a batch. Usually, it is best to start with fresh seed.

Capsicums generally are easy and relatively trouble-free, and they deserve greater popularity. The most likely pest is aphids.

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