Thursday, June 11, 2020

Bird Pepper - Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Peppers in the genus Capsicum are decidedly an American phenomenon and only became part of the world's culinary diet after the discovery of the New World by Europeans. Imagine a recipe without peppers - hot or mild. If you enjoy them, thank the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs for their earliest cultivation. Bird pepper (Capsicum annuum) is the only native Florida pepper. Our native variety is var. glabriusculum. This is the same genus as the favorite chile pepper used in so many recipes worldwide. As its name suggests, it typically is an annual, but in the southernmost part of its range, it is a short-lived perennial. Bird pepper is native to most of Florida, though most common in the southern third of the peninsula. Surprisingly, it occurs also in a widely scattered distribution from New Mexico to New York and Connecticut on the East Coast. In those northern regions, it most definitely acts as an annual.
Bird pepper can hardly be called a wildflower in the same way most others are, but its small white blooms and bright red fruit lend color to a wildflower planting. This species prefers sunny locations and well-drained soils. In frost-free areas, it forms a woody stem and can reach a mature height of 6 feet. The plants photographed above are in my nursery and still in pots as I decide what to do with them. The foliage is similar to other peppers - deep green in color and lanceolate in shape. Each leaf is about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide.
Flowering can occur throughout the year in frost-free locations. The white flowers are about 1/4 inch wide and dangle downwards. Pollinated blooms give rise to small green fruit that ripen to bright red. Each is tiny - never much more than 1/4 inch long, but extremely pungent. It is said to be at least 10 times the pungency of a typical jalapeno, for example.
The vast majority of bird species have no real sense of smell/taste and an eye for the red of ripe fruit. Because of this, fruit-eating birds like mockingbirds and catbirds relish the fruit of bird pepper, but it is avoided by mammals such as squirrels. 
Bird pepper is something of a conversation piece and therefore is offered regularly by a number of native plant nurseries. In a landscape, it is a good bird plant and the tiny pungent peppers are a good addition to all kinds of dishes where its small size and flavor are an important attribute. Bird pepper reseeds well, but I find it best to save a few dried peppers to sow just in case my mature plants die over winter.


  1. Question: having grown up in the Philippines, we used these frequently- and sparingly! in our cooking. Would the Spaniards have brought them, or would they possibly be native there? FYI.... the leaves are excellent in soups= adds a slightly peppery zing to the broth! I cook with the pepper leaves more than the peppers themselves!

  2. The birds eat most of my peppers before I can get them to eat or seed. Then, when I was not looking, my bush died. I suggest planting a little one under or next to a mature one so you never have to go without peppers or happy birds


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