Last winter while digging through seed catalogues for new plants to buy I came across a hot pepper variety that I could not resist trying. Actually, I came upon several irresistible hot pepper varieties. As someone who doesn’t actually eat hot peppers I sure do grow a lot of them. As an edible plant they’re just so captivating with countless options to choose from. And because hot peppers have a historically significant human connection, having been important to cultures around the world for thousands of years, they often come with a good story attached. I can not resist a good story.
I particularly lean towards plants with variegated foliage since they are attractive all season long, adding colour and interest when tucked in among plain ole’ green basil and lettuce varieties.
Growing hot peppers is a challenge I’ve had a lot of success with, a plant whose code I’ve mostly cracked. When I find one that is a bit different I can’t resist the need to experience it firsthand. I have to know! How will it grow in a container? What size container does it need? What kind of yield can I get? On and on and on. There are lots of questions. It’s the work involved in finding answers to mostly geeky questions that keeps me hooked on gardening and most especially hooked on growing edibles I won’t eat myself. Well, one of the reasons anyways.
Back to the story. The new (to me) hot pepper I found is called ‘Red Rocoto’ (Capsicum pubescens), a South American hot pepper originating from Boliva or Peru that is quite unlike any hot pepper I have ever seen. I am growing a red type but they also come in yellow and orange. But wait. Before I go on describing the peppers and plant let’s just pause for a moment. In case you didn’t catch it, the botanical name is Capsicum pubescens. PUBESCENS. Aka “Hairy Pepper.” Wow. The 12 year old in me is snickering and fondly recalling that time in grade five science class when the teacher, Mr. Whatshisface said the word, “period” while demonstrating a pendulum and the class erupted into a fit of nervous giggles. Ah youth.
Anypuberty, as with most botanical names, the unique characteristics of this plant are clearly identified by the species name “pubescens”. Unlike any pepper plant, hot or not that I have ever grown, this one has hairy leaves! And even stranger, the small peppers have thick walls just like a bell pepper. Except it’s not a bell pepper, it’s a hot pepper. I have tasted one and it really does have that bell pepper flavor but with a hot pepper kick. And the flowers…. the flowers are beautiful. Mine were a light purple with little yellow spots but I have also seen darker purple. So lovely.
I grew two plants this year, both in pots although one was slightly larger than the other. The biggest was about a foot and half deep and the smaller about 11″ or so. I do this to see how they will differ. There is no point in growing two plants identically unless I have prior experience with them and am not messing about. I tend to grow most of my peppers, especially the hot ones in containers on the roof where they get the most sun and I can better control the amount of water they receive. This was the wettest summer on record in Toronto so the containers proved to be especially important. All of my roof peppers did very well while the plants at the community garden had to fight an onslaught of slugs. I curse you slugs!!
My next experiment will be to cut the plants back and bring them indoors to over-winter in a south-facing window. You can see that they have already begun to grow new stems and leaves. I have read that Rocoto peppers do well indoors and can be kept as a houseplant for several years. They grow tall and vine-like. Pretty cool don’t you think? I plan to repot mine into much larger containers next spring to see how they develop in a second season with more space.
Oddly enough I looked in my seed collection in order to recall where I got the seeds and pass that onto you but I can’t find the packet nor can I recall where I got them! However, I just checked with Seed Savers and they have them listed under ‘Red Ricota.’ Let that massive memory void be a lesson to you in what happens to a person when they acquire too many seeds. Too many names. Too many packets. Best not to assume that gap is the result of too much growing old aka The Aging.
If you’re looking for seeds in your area be sure to check under other names including: Manzano, Locoto, Rocoto, and Ricota.