Plant This: Chile pequin will spice up your garden

Native perennial chile pequin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) adds hot color to the fall garden with a profusion of tiny, red peppers held upright on rambling green stems adorned with chartreuse, spade-shaped leaves. And if you taste one, you’ll find it heats up your tongue as well! These diminutive peppers pack a fiery punch that rivals the habanero, or so I’ve read, having never dared to sample one myself. I leave that to the birds, which are unaffected by spicy heat.

Michael at Plano Prairie Garden passed along this volunteer to me, and I love how it works with the yellow stripes of ‘Bright Edge’ yucca. I grew chile pequin in my former garden as well, pairing it with fall blooming spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) that echoed the red of the peppers.

Chile pequin has always grown well for me in part shade to full shade, but I’ve seen it in full sun as well. Once established, it’s fairly drought tolerant, and it generally dies back in winter but returns from the roots. If you enjoy providing food for birds, chile pequin’s 5-alarm fruit is a favorite, which is why it’s also known as bird pepper. It grows to about 2 feet tall and wide — a small plant with spice to spare.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2014 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

27 Responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    It certainly is a pretty plant with the fruit on it. Isn’t it amazing how birds can eat hot poisonous to human things like poison ivy berries. It makes my throat itch just watching them.

  2. Joanne says:

    Moving to southern California next week. We have a partial to full shade front yard. I will give this one a try. No more sizzling summers! Thanks for all the gardening tips while we lived in the area. We had the best yard in the area.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      A new gardening adventure! Enjoy your new home in the land of outdoor living, Joanne. I’m envious just thinking of your year-round gardening weather. Everything you’ve learned about drought-tolerant gardening in Texas will come in handy there too, so you’ll be ahead of the curve. —Pam

  3. Pam, they are so pretty trailing over your galvanized tub! We just tried them this year and got them for everyone on the crew. Here is a post I did a few month back about them. They are a new favorite of mine now that I see how long they last. And no I haven’t braved tasting one either.

  4. Hdgml00 says:

    The chili pequin grows wild here in Deep South Texas. I’ve used them to add extra punch to pepper jelly, and have used them in spicy sweet refrigerator pickle recipes. They also make a good cooked salsa with tomatoes, onion and cilantro. You just have to start off small and go up for flavor/heat. No one in MY family dares eat them raw, but I know people who do.

  5. Peter/Outlaw says:

    What a beautiful plant! I’ll have to see if they’ll grow in our soggy climate!

  6. Wow, it looks fantastic! When I saw the title of your post, I had to find out what this plant looked like because Central Market turns the chiles into my very favourite salsa. Didn’t make the connection that these plants could be grown. Amazing. I will add it to my wish list :)

    Speaking of, what’s a good source for these seeds? Do you know anything about this company: Not sure where to look…


    • Pam/Digging says:

      Kapila, Native Seeds is a reputable organization, which I actually visited on a Garden Writers Association tour in Tucson a few years back. However, I think you can find chile pequin closer to home. Did you see Laurin’s comment, above? She lives in Houston as you do, and she recently added it to her garden; see her post for details. I would be happy to mail you some dried peppers from my own plant, but I warn you in advance that I’m terrible with seeds and often forget to harvest at the right time, or pluck them too soon. I make no guarantees! Email me if you want to take your chances. —Pam

  7. TexasDeb says:

    I love this plant ! But you certainly don’t have to leave all the fruit to the birds. Using the peppers in vinegars (a la Tabasco) is easy to do and delicious. They’ll also readily infuse oil to create a lovely heat in salad dressings or marinades. My son has dried them and used them as a component in chile powder. I’m betting they are interchangeable with Thai bird chilis though I haven’t tried them in a stir fry yet. Like bird chilis, you’d want to be able to fish them to the side after cooking and their tiny size might be a distinct disadvantage. They are hot, yes, but certainly not TOO hot to use.

    • Pam/Digging says:

      If only the vinegar could appear on my kitchen counter without me having to do anything. I’ve never been into cooking, Deb, which is why I grow very few edibles for edible purposes. It’s a terrible failing. It is fun, however, to hear how popular they are for those with a talent in the kitchen and a love of heat! —Pam

  8. What a great combo – I need to grown this plant again…it is my husbands FAVORITE. Come to think of it, I don’t remember what happened to mine…I think maybe it bit the dust with my re-design of the back.

  9. This looks like a good one to plant.
    Love the photos. A great plant combination…Very Christmasy.

    What is the feathery plant, in the background?

    • Pam/Digging says:

      With the variegated leaves? That’s an invasive artemsia, ‘Oriental Limelight’, that I am so glad I tried in a stock tank rather than in the ground. It’s pretty in the spring but gets thirsty and ratty in summer before making another resurgence in the fall. It spreads aggressively underground, and pulling doesn’t get it all. It reminds me of mint. Other bloggers here in Austin are more forgiving of its aggressive nature than I am, even in the ground. But I say, beware. —Pam

  10. Kris P says:

    I haven’t seen this pepper here but I’ll have to look around for it – anything that provides that kind of color in shade is valuable. The peppers remind me of the old-style Christmas lights.

  11. Debi Deason says:

    These grow wild down here in Waysouth Texas. I’ll never forget the time a good friend, who eats them like popcorn, gave one to a little “Winter Texan” lady at a church dinner we attended. She grabbed the pitcher of tea in front of her and downed most of it!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Ay yi yi! I cannot imagine eating peppers like popcorn. Speaking of hot, my dad tells a funny story about once popping an entire ball of wasabi into his mouth while showing off in front of a bunch of meat-and-potatoes Midwesterners at a conference (circa 1975) by ordering the sushi without really knowing what it was all about. He said he felt like molten lava hit his chest, like he was having a heart attack. He stood up, ripped off his tie, guzzled his entire glass of water, and then grabbed the glass of the woman sitting next to him and guzzled that one too. He is sure that not one of the stunned Midwesterners at the table ever dared order sushi from that day on. —Pam

  12. My chile pequin plants are already crunchy thanks to the early freeze last month. Have you noticed any birds besides mockingbirds eating the peppers?

  13. Jenny says:

    Such a pretty winter native if you can keep the berries. Mockingbirds have eaten this years crop already. Of course he then sits on the parapet and poops them into a new area so they grow all over the place. I have never tried them or done anything with them but my Indian relatives tell me they are not too hot!!

  14. Katina says:

    LOVE chile pequin!