Flowers, move aside! Ornamental pepper plants can add intriguing colors and texture to flowerbeds, planters and indoor pots. Use them to decorate the kitchen, for edging around the patio or to brighten up curb appeal at the front of the house. But are ornamental pepper plants edible, or do they just have decorative value?
What are Ornamental Peppers?
Ornamental pepper plants differ from ordinary garden types of peppers by where the fruit is produced on the plant. On ornamental varieties, the peppers grow at the end of the stems, while garden types have their fruit hidden among the foliage. Ornamental pepper plants also tend to have a more compact growth habit.
It's not uncommon for gardeners to ask, “Can you eat ornamental peppers?” It should be noted that as a member of the nightshade family, the leaves of all types of pepper plants are toxic to humans and pets. However, like garden peppers, the fruit that grows on ornamental varieties of pepper plants is edible, but there is a catch. Many varieties of ornamental peppers really pack a punch.
While these super hot pepper varieties can be used in spicy cuisine or for a rousing game of dare amongst adult friends, most lack the flavor complexity of garden peppers. Care should also be taken when growing hot ornamental peppers around small children or pets. Their cute shapes and sizes make them tempting to try.
The Ornamental Pepper Plant: Edible and Hot Varieties
Ornamental pepper plants have the same growing requirements as garden varieties. In general, pepper plants prefer full sun and rich, well-draining soil. They tend to be fairly disease and deer resistant. Gardeners are advised to watch for aphid or whitefly infestations, especially when growing ornamental varieties indoors.
These decorative plants host a wonderful array of fruit colors, including yellow, orange, red, purple and white. In some varieties, the fruit changes color several times during the ripening process. The foliage of ornamental peppers can be green, but some varieties sport dark burgundy or black leaves. Cultivars with variegated foliage are also available.
If you wish to add ornamental peppers to your indoor plant collection or outdoor landscaping, consider these popular varieties:
- Aurora – A medium to hot pepper, Aurora has the spiciness of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. The fruit changes from green to purple to orange, then red when fully mature.
- Basket of Fire – With a growth style which is ideal for hanging planters, Basket of Fire peppers rank about 80,000 Scoville units. The fruit color transitions from creamy yellow through orange to red.
- Black Pearl – Ranked between 10,000 and 30,000 Scoville units, Black Pearl peppers are still much hotter than jalapeños. The black foliage contrasts nicely with the fully ripe red fruit.
- Calico – As one of the variegated ornamental pepper varieties, Calico's leaves sport a tricolor mix of medium green, creamy white and purple foliage. The fruit ripens to a shade of red and has 50,000 to 70,000 Scoville units.
- Chinese 5 Color – Great for spicy salsa, growers can expect a heat intensity of 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units from the 1 inch (2.5 cm), cone-shaped fruits of the Chinese 5 Color pepper.
- Chilly Chili – As one of the mild ornamental pepper varieties, Chilly Chili's spiciness registers less than 1000 Scoville units. The 2 to 3 inch (5-7.6 cm.) fruit ripens from yellow to red.
- Medusa – Although the pencil-shaped fruit of this prolific pepper plant look like they would be extremely hot, Medusa ranks under 1000 Scoville units. The fruit transitions from creamy white to red while ripening.
- NuMex Twilight – As NuMex Twilight peppers transition from brilliant purple to yellow, orange and cherry red, these indeterminate plants boast an array of colorful fruit to brighten up any garden corner. Mature peppers are spicy with 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units.
- Sangria – With a mild Scoville rating under 5000, Sangria peppers look similar to a cayenne, but more colorful.
- Tangerine Dream – With the very slightly spicy rating of under 100 Scoville units, Tangerine Dream has a sweet ornamental pepper taste. The short, cone-shaped fruit turns orange when ripe.
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Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.
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