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Capsicum annuum L.

Cayenne pepper

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderSolanalesPotatoes, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, petunias, sweet potatoes, morning glories, many others
FamilySolanaceaeNightshade or potato family
GenusCapsicumFrom Greek κάπτω, kapto, “to bite”

About plant names...

Cayenne peppers are natives of southern North America and northern South America. Most of the peppers we eat or grow as ornamentals are cultivated from this species, including anchos, banana peppers, cayennes, de árbols, guajillos, jalapeños, anaheims, Italian sweets, pasillas, peperoncinis, pimentos, poblanos, serranos, and tabascos. (A few, habaneros among them, have other origins.)

If you are curious as to the origins of these popular peppers, consider Kraig Harris Kraft’s 2009 dissertation on the subject, The domestication of the chile pepper, Capsicum annuum: Genetic, ecological, and anthropogenic patterns of genetic diversity.

Identification: Plants are up to 24" (60 cm) high, densely branched. They are annuals in cooler climates and woody perennials in warmer ones. (Woody variants are sometimes referred to as Capsicum frutescens, but there is little evidence to support this separate classification.) Leaves are oblong-ovate, ovate, or ovate-lanceolate, 1½-5" (4-13 cm) × ½-1½" (1.5-4 cm), on petioles 1½-2½" (4-7 cm) in length. Flowers are whitish or tinged with purple, about 1" (2.5 cm) in size, appearing from May to October. Fruits are shiny, carrot-shaped peppers. They may vary in color when ripe from green to yellow, orange, or red. As a rule, varieties with smaller fruits have more heat.

Edibility: Capsaicin (methyl vanillyl nonenamide) is the substance that makes some peppers hot. Peppers depend on birds, which do not react to capsaicin, to eat and spread their seeds, so this substance evolved to deter mammals. The pith around the seeds, not the seeds themselves, contain the most capsaicin. Bell peppers have no capsaicin, while others variants have widely varying amounts. All peppers are edible, regardless of their capsaicin levels. Lovers of spicy peppers do not experience as strong a reaction to capsaicin as those who rarely eat them. In the flowing script of Thailand these are called พริกขี้หนู. I first became addicted to them from a friend’s inspired Malaysian cuisine. She has a penchant for the very hottest ones, which she eats like candy, earning the nickname “dragon lady.”

Online References:

Capsicum annuum on CalPhotos

Capsicum annuum at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Capsicum annuum on Wikipedia

Capsicum annuum on eFloras


Fayaz, Ahmed, Encyclopedia of Tropical Plants: Identification and Cultivation of Over 3000 Tropical Plants, Firefly Books, 2011, p. 663

Graf, Alfred Byrd, Exotic Plant Manual: Fascinating Plants to Live With—Their Requirements, Propagation, and Use, Roehrs Company, 1974, p. 386


Capsicum annuum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.

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Capsicum annuum (cayenne pepper)

10/16/2007 · Pepperell, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 22 × 15" (57 × 38 cm)

Capsicum annuum (cayenne pepper)

10/16/2007 · Pepperell, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 6 × 4" (15 × 10 cm)

Capsicum annuum (cayenne pepper)

10/16/2007 · Pepperell, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 5 × 3½" (13 × 8.8 cm)

Range: Zones 9-11:

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