Capsicum baccatum L. Chillies

by Morgan Freeman

Capsicum baccatum L. species is South American in origin, where the wild and cultivated varieties are found. It is distinguished from the other species or Capsicum by the yellow or tan markings in the throat of the corolla and the yellow anthers. It is difficult to distinguish from C. annuum in the fruiting stage, as it has many of the same fruit forms.

Capsicum frutescens L. species is sometimes called the bird pepper. It is now found as weed or wild plant from Florida, Mexico and the West Indies to northern parts of South America. Smith and Heiser (1957) state that because of its wide distribution no conclusion can be drawn as to its centre of origin in the American tropics.

Capsicum pubescens Ruiz & Pavon is a very distinct species and can be distinguished from the other cultivated species by the overall pubescence of the plant, by its blue or purple flowers instead of white or greenish, and its very thick-fleshed fruits which contain black wrinkled seeds in contrast to the pale yellow, more-or-less smooth seeds of the other species. The fruits are very variable in shape, size and pungency. The ripe fruit colour may he red, orange or brown.

It has been introduced experimentally into the United States, where it matures early and bears profusely, but its uses in breeding are limited by sterility barriers with other species. Smith and Heiser (1957) recognized the species Capsicum chinense Jacq. as distinct. It resembles C. frutescens, to which it is closely related, but can be distinguished by the pedicels, which are usually shorter, thicker, curved, are usually borne with three to five per node, with a distinct circular constriction between the pedicel and calyx, whereas in C. frutescens the pedicels are long, slender, erect at anthesis and without the constriction. The corolla lobes of C. chinense are slightly or not at all spreading, whereas those of C. frutescens are nearly always spreading and frequently recurved. Hybrids between the two generally show some impairment in fertility.

C. chinense appears to be the most commonly cultivated and most widely distributed species in northern South America and the West Indies. The fruits, which are variable in size and colour, are extremely pungent. They are used by the Caribs for torturing captives. They were also used in the preparation of the West Indian `pepper-pot’, a stew in which the ingredients are constantly added so that the pot is never empty.

Capsicum cardenasii species is known only from the sierra of Bolivia, and, although sold regularly in the markets of ,a Paz, it was not known to science until 1958. Heiser (1969a) says that ‘the species is reportedly cultivated in some parts of the country – but its extremely small fruits differ little from wild species of the genus, and it apparently is not a cultivated plant in the sense that the other species are.’ It is known locally in Bolivia as ulupica and its small fruits are rather aromatic and very pungent.

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