White flower which will make the pepper, immature green pepper and mature red one
By Debbie Roland and Emmy Ulmschneider, Master Gardeners
So, what is in a name? Call it chili petin, Chile Tepin, Chile Pequin, Chiltepin, Chile Petin, Bird Pepper, Turkey Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, these are all common names for varieties of Capsicum annuum. This species includes some varieties that are native to North America, such as Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculumand some that are not, for instance Capsicum annuum var. annuum, Cayenne Pepper. But regardless of the variety, the petin pepper is a very hot chili pepper with a ranking of 30,000 to 60,000 on the Scoville Unit scale, making it five to eight times hotter than a jalapeno to which it is related.
Our native chili petin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) has a compact growing habit about 2’ tall and 2’ wide with medium green leaves and small oblong berries that start out green and mature into a bright red color. Their branches have a characteristic zig-zag pattern. It is a well-behaved native that can grow in sun but prefers some shade, especially in the heat of the West Texas summer. It looks great grown in masses or as an airy understory shrub combined with Pigeon Berry, Rivinia humilis, Cedar Sage, Salvia romeriana, and Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium. Chile Petin is cold and heat tolerant; if the plants die back in the winter, cut them back and they will return. The oval fruits do not last long as they are highly prized by neighborhood birds. And this one way they can spread in your yard. Water use is low but should be consistent. If they get too dry, they will drop their leaves. Their size makes them an ideal choice to be used in pots on your patio or porch.
If you can beat the birds to the peppers, they are edible. Common uses include salsas, vinegars, pickling and soups. Some describe the flavor as citrusy and nutty when eaten fresh. The peppers can also be dehydrated and ground to make a powder for use as a spice. Use in moderation as they are hot! Pepper sprays also make use of the irritating capsicum oil found in many peppers. Texans love their salsa and in 1997 designated the chiltepin (chile tepin) as the official state native pepper.
If you want to plant from seed, start six weeks before the last frost date, March 27. Plant extra seed because the germination rate can be low and very slow. Place in any seed tray or pot with moist potting or germination soil. Plant the seeds ¼” deep and cover the tray or pot with clear plastic wrap. Transplant when all danger of frost is past. Add a thick layer of mulch which will retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay. If you prefer, buy small plants. They are readily available at local nurseries beginning in the spring.
So, Happy Gardening and let our native pepper spice up your life!
If you have questions, call the AgriLife office in Odessa at 498-4071 or in Midland at 686-4700.
Additional information, and our blog for access to past articles, is available at westtexasgardening.org. Click on “Resources”.