Peppers becoming holiday favoritePaul Bosland is a pepper plant breeder whose specialty adds zest and dazzle to the holidays. So far, he’s introduced ornamental chile plants for Halloween (orange and black fruit), Thanksgiving (cream-colored pods that turn orange), Christmas (red and green), St. Patrick’s Day (green and orange) and Valentine’s Day (cream to pink to red).
By: By Dean Fosdick, The Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
Paul Bosland is a pepper plant breeder whose specialty adds zest and dazzle to the holidays.
So far, he’s introduced ornamental chile plants for Halloween (orange and black fruit), Thanksgiving (cream-colored pods that turn orange), Christmas (red and green), St. Patrick’s Day (green and orange) and Valentine’s Day (cream to pink to red).
In the works hybrid-wise for launch in 2009 are multicolored pepper varieties commemorating the Chinese New Year (burnished orange) and Cinco de Mayo (yellow to red).
The ornamental NuMex line developed by Bosland is built primarily around the ancient Capsicum pepper species, a shrub native to South and Central America that exhibits a wide range of desirable traits.
Bosland assembles decorative new cultivars from a small group of parent plants having different colors and shapes and the promise of high yields and low maintenance. All produce nectar-rich blooms before they fruit, making them excellent border plants or attractive choices for potting.
“(Commercial) greenhouse growers were looking for additional plants to grow during the major holidays, like Mother’s Day and Christmas,” said Bosland, a horticulture professor at New Mexico State University and director of the school’s Chile Pepper Institute.
“By associating the different color combinations to other holidays, I am hoping that it helps marketing and sales.”
While these multicolored chilies aren’t likely to replace poinsettias as the top-selling holiday plant, they are a hot option, Bosland said.
Ornamental chile peppers are stunning as they flower and again as the fruit ripens. Chilies bring a different look to flower gardens — unique and eye-catching when placed alongside more traditional flowers or when displayed alone in containers. The plants also are drought-tolerant.
“They are as easy to grow as a potted mum, and if someone wanted, they could be kept alive for years,” Bosland said. “Those that have the dwarf gene make a good indoor plant as long as you put them by a bright window. But varieties that get kind of tall do better outside, in sunny gardens.”
The popularity of these flowering vegetables has been increasing, but should gain momentum next year when they begin arriving at such national retail chains as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, said Travis Knoop, special projects manager at Metrolina Greenhouses in Huntersville, N.C.
“There’s more of a demand for them now, with people asking for a heat tolerant plant that’s also very showy,” said Knoop, who studied under Bosland at New Mexico State. “Their fruit lasts longer than any flower for the money. People new to these pepper plants are usually pleased with the outcomes.”
Ornamental peppers are frost-sensitive and generally grow best when planted in well-drained, slightly acidic soil. They perform as soft perennials in frost-free zones, Knoop said.
“Although they self-sow, it’s best to buy new plants off the shelf each year for more consistency,” he said.
Their drying ability is another plus, said Janie Lamson, whose Cross Country Nurseries at Rosemont, N.J., turns out some 500 pepper varieties.
“You can cut a whole branch of them and they will dry and display well on a wall or hanging from the ceiling,” Lamson said. “A lot of people use them for table arrangements. A great many display them in the workplace.
“They’re thin-skinned. When you want to use them to spice up some food, they will crumble easily in your fingers.”
All peppers are suitable for eating — fresh or dried, whole or ground.
“Some of the potted peppers will be marked ‘For Ornamental Use Only,’ but only because they’ve been sprayed with something not for use on edible crops,” Lamson said. “If you grow your own, they’re edible.”
But for the most part, the ornamentals are raised primarily for their dense, multi-branched foliage and colorful fruit. “Ornamental chilies can have all the colors of the rainbow, often displaying pods in four or five colors on the same plant at the same time,” Bosland said.
They long have been called “Christmas peppers” be-cause of their bright red fruits during the holiday season, he said. Wreaths made from dehydrated peppers are popular in the Southwest and are a major tourist product there.
“A tradition in New Mexico is to harvest mature red chilies and string them into colorful strings (ristras),” Bosland said. “The ristra is hung near the entrance of the house as a symbol of hospitality. Ornamental chilies have become an innovative way for small farmers to produce a high-value alternative crop.”