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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wild Capsicum annuum

www.victoriananursery.co.uk/Chiltepin_Seed/
The little wild chiles of the arid-Southwest (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) have long held my interest. They are spread by the birds and crop up under shrubs or along fence-lines, where they seem to enjoy the shade. The tiny pods are scorchingly hot and the plants produce them prolifically without any apparent disease problems.

The first time I became aware of this plant I was in middle school. There was a crew working on the power lines behind my house and one of the workers was collecting the tiny red berries that we had assumed were poisonous. When my father asked him what they were, the worker apologized and asked if he could have them. Pretty soon, the worker realized we didn't know what they were. I don't remember how he explained, but it culminated with my dad trying one and then agreeing to let the worker have all that he had picked. Ever since then, the members of my family that like hot foods kept an eye out for the little wild peppers.

When I left Texas, I brought one of these chiles in a pot. Once in Minnesota, the plant quickly died. I had left it in a shaded location, like they prefer in Texas, but it was soon apparent that it also didn't like the cool and dark shadows found in Minnesota. I probably should have given it full sun, as full sun in Minnesota is much like partial shade in Texas.

Sometime before the plant died, I noticed that its leaves when crushed had a distinct smell I associated with the pungency of hot chiles. When I had my dad smell the crushed leaves, he jerked back in an attempt to avoid the pain you get when crushed chiles end up inside your face. He was very surprised at the scent and I was amused. I tasted some leaves to see if they had a hot taste, but they only tasted like greenery.



A few years later, I was visiting Austin-TX and looked for some of the wild chiles to gather seeds from. I succeeded in finding a single plant under shrub, but was surprised that the leaves had no scent at all. It was approaching mid-winter, so the lack of scent could have been due to the growing conditions or a difference in genetics.

I really liked the scented leaves, so if the seedlings I grow over the next year or so aren't scented I'll have to keep looking for plants that are on future trips to Texas.


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