Chilli Plants: Capsicum Frutescens

Capsicum frutescens includes very few varieties of chillies but it does include that most famous pepper of all - the Tabasco pepper.

Some of the other cultivars and varieties included in this group are Piri piri, also known as African Devil or African Bird’s Eye, Malagueta pepper, Malawian pepper, Kambuzi pepper and Thai pepper, also known as Chilli Padi, Bird’s Eye Chilli or Siling Labuyo.

The origin of this species is not very clear but it is believed to have originated in Central or South America.

From here it spread rapidly across the tropical and sub tropical regions in this area. Today, this species is endemic throughout the major portion Northern, Central and Western South America.

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Physical Characteristics


Unlike other species such as the Chinense and the Annum species, there is very little variation in the pods of the Frutescens chillies. Typically, the stem grows straight up throughout and it curves suddenly just before it touches the flower head. The plants are compact, with the stems growing only between one and four feet tall, depending upon prevailing conditions. Their short, shrubby growth and large number of flowers make them ideal for container gardening.

Bushes of Capsicum frutescens often produce clusters of pods, which grow just above their foliage and giving them a beautiful ornamental look similar to that of the C. Annuum species. A single plant is capable of producing more than 100 pods. Most pods or berries are small and grow erect and are typically lanceoloid or ellipsoid-conical in shape. The flowers have the same width throughout and are white with a greenish yellow or greenish white corolla. The fruit are yellow when they start off and as they mature they darken and turn red gradually, displaying various shades of red during the different stages of ripening.

Cultural & Culinary Uses of Capsicum Frutescens


One cuisine that uses an abundance of these chillies is the Ethiopian cuisine, where this species has been cultivated since the nineteenth century. It shows up occasionally in Egyptian and Moroccan dishes too but not so much in other parts of the world. One exception is the Tabasco pepper, which is used to make the universally famous Tabasco sauce.

The Piri Piri pepper is a popular and much used variety in the Southern regions of Africa. Here it is also commonly known as Pili Pili, which literally translated means pepper pepper in Swahili. The British used to call it African Devil because of its deadly, intense heat. Whereas it used to grow in the wild earlier, it is now being cultivated extensively and used in the production of spices. Piri Piri is very popular in African cuisine and is often used to prepare a particular type of marinade for roasting chicken. When running short of time, sprinkling pili piili pepper flakes over the meat just before serving can do the trick too.

Today, more and more people everywhere are choosing to plant this species for ornamental purposes because of the eye catching display of the profusion of erect peppers growing in colourful ripening patterns. The chillies grow erect and mature to a red or orange colour. At full growth they measure about .75” in length and have a diameter of about 1.25”.

Growing Capsicum Frutescens Chilli Plants


Like most other pepper plants, capsicum frutescens also relish heat and humidity and have very small tolerance to drought. They grow best when planted in moist, well-drained soil that is fertile and enriched with organic matter. If you are growing them outdoors, sow the seeds or transplant the seedlings only after the soil has warmed considerably and the danger of frost has passed. In addition to this, choosing a spot where they will get the full sun gives the plants the best possible conditions for them to thrive.
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Founded by Sarah Hunt in 2008, World of Chillies is an online chilli shop specialising in chilli plants, seeds, gifts, dried chillies and sauces.

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