A New Look at Ornamental Peppers

Ornamental peppers have been a relatively minor component of fall cut flower arrangements, their colorful fruit-bearing stems generally confined to small bouquets or decorations on fall wreaths. Their drawbacks have been relatively short stems, a tendency for leaves to wilt when put in a vase, and the drudgery of having to remove all the leaves.   There are, however, pepper species that don’t have these disadvantages, and we had the opportunity, with ASCFG Research Foundation funding, to test them. We grew 27 lines of Capsicum baccatum and C. frutescens after having seen their attractive and showy plants in 2011. We hoped to identify plants with showy fruits, good fruitset, and sturdy, erect and easy to defoliate stems. The 2012 planting was encouraging, so here is our progress report.

We started the seed on April 20 and transplanted to the field on June 6. We planted  2 rows of plants spaced 12 inches apart in the row on our 4-foot beds. ‘Cappa Conic’ from Harris Seeds served as the standard to which the new lines were compared. The new lines flowered about 3 weeks later than the standard, but then grew vigorously until maturity.  They tended to be tall and wide, and those with larger fruits fell over after late summer rains. We concentrated our attention on lines that remained upright without support, and had prominent fruits. On September 21, we measured plant size, and harvested several stems for vase life testing. The accessions that stood out in all these tests are shown in the illustrations and in the table, below. 

Table 1. Promising pepper varieties for use as cuts in fall arrangements.

Variety no.Stem length of harvested stems (in.)Stems per plant at harvestLeaf loss at harvest
14816Old  Ivs.
134920Slight to complete
235719Slight to complete
Cappa Conic4018None: leaves wilted

In the growing conditions of 2012, the plants in this trial were challenged by higher than normal temperatures in midsummer, which probably delayed fruit set and stimulated more stem and leaf growth.  As a result, the plants produced stems that averaged 4 feet in length, more than long enough for large bouquets. With the wide spacing used, each plant produced 15 to 20 stems. Of most interest was the fact that all of the selected lines remained turgid in the vase for three weeks after harvest, without wilting of the leaves. We evaluated leaf fall of the cut stems at the end of 5 weeks, and several showed at least partial leaf loss. The trial therefore indicates that these lines can be harvested when the fruits are attractive and showy, and used in bouquets directly, or stored as cut branches for a couple of weeks. That proved useful for us this year, as we encountered a killing frost in the field on October 13. In a later season, some of the lines should lose their leaves by the time of stem harvest, but this needs to be tested further.

If these results hold true in other years, these pepper lines should be a significant addition to material useful for fall bouquets. We hope to test these lines again in 2013, and to share a few seeds of each with the ASCFG trial program network, so that others can also evaluate them.

Acknowledgements: We thank the ASCFG Research Foundation for making this project possible, and Priscilla Thompson and Gretchen McDaniels for expert assistance.

Chris Wien


Chris Wien is recently retired Professor of Horticulture at Cornell University. Contact him at [email protected]