you eat your peppers and enjoy looking at them too?
Yes, you can.
Peppers don't have to be just green and bell shaped and relegated to
the supermarket shelf or home garden plot. This genus of plants has the
genetic potential to provide a wide array of possibilities for the
kitchen and the ornamental garden and sometimes both at once.
Since 1991, John Stommel, of the ARS Vegetable Laboratory, and Robert
Griesbach, of the ARS Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, both in
Beltsville, Maryland, have bred peppers to please both the eye and the
The eye-catching Black
Pearl, released in 2005 and
honored as a 2006
All-America Selections (AAS) winner, attests to their success in
developing new cultivars with both aesthetic and culinary appeal. The
award recognizes new flower and vegetable varieties that demonstrate
“superior garden performance” in trials conducted
throughout the country.
Black Pearl is a robust plant, adaptable to environments from New
England to California, Stommel says. In addition, it resists attacks
from many insects and fungi and is remarkably drought-tolerant. It can
also serve as a hot pepper for the kitchen, making it a dual purpose
pepper for today's smaller urban gardens. Since its
release, more than 2 million seeds have been sold.
Tangerine Dream is a sweet, edible ornamental
pepper that produces small orange banana-shaped fruit on a prostrate
Stommel and Griesbach look forward
to releasing several new pepper cultivars in the future, including one
with spreading black foliage and colorful upright peppers with a spicy
flavor. Another is exceptionally tall—growing as high as 3
feet. A third, which produces fruit around Halloween, has black foliage
and orange, pumpkin-shaped fruit.
Ornamental peppers are just one part of a growing industry. Nursery,
landscape, and floral plants are big business, worth about $16 billion
a year in this country alone, according to USDA’s Economic
Breeding these culinary ornamental peppers has been a cross-laboratory
effort. How did the breeders do it? The first step is to isolate
individual traits and select the ones they want, Stommel says. Within
the Capsicum genus, there is great variety among
qualities—like the size, shape, and color of leaves and
Griesbach compares the process of pepper breeding to assembling a Mr.
Potato Head doll. By selecting specific characteristics, breeders can
make desirable combinations. Any new combination will create a novel
“Only your imagination is limiting,” he says.
as Nice Breeding Versatile Vegetables," Agricultural
Color Guard Pepper
Pepper Black Pearl
Rob Griesbach (left)
and John Stommel