The genus Capsicum is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Peppers share a branch in the family tree with the tomato, potato, tobacco, eggplant and petunia and are not related to the black pepper, or Piper nigrum, in your pepper mill.
Capsicum is divided into approximately 26 or more species and most are found in the wild. There is still questions as to exactly how many species have been identified. Taxonomists have only recently begun to agree regarding the classification of the domesticated species of Capsicum. The only way to positively differentiate between the varieties is by the flower – the corolla and calyx. The corolla color, rather it has spots or not, or rather the flowers may be solitary or two or more to the node, or with or with out a purple filament determines the species. Identification cannot be made positively by the fruit alone.
Through seed selection, the ease at which chiles cross-pollinate and extensive research and hybridization, hundreds of varieties have developed. The turn of the last century brought a field day for botanists cataloging the varieties. Even today, botanists continuously are classify and reclassify varieties among the species Capsicum. To narrow it down, only five of the species are cultivated for the world marketplace. These cultivated species are as follows:
Capsicum Annum meaning: “annual”, actually misleading given chillies are perennials under suitable growing conditions. This species is most widely cultivated, both in the home garden and commercially. Common varieties include the Bells, Poblano, Cayenne, Cherry, De Arbol, Jalapeno, Ornamentals, New Mexican, Paprika, Pequins, Tepins, Wax, and Serrano.
Capsicum baccatum: Meaning “berry-like”. This species consist of the South American hot pods known as Aji. These chiles have a distinctive fruity flavor and mature to colorful, wrinkled pods of bright red, orange and yellow.
Capsicum chinense: Meaning “from China” which is far from correct – this species originated in the Amazon Basin. The widely declared hottest chiles on earth, Red Savina, Habanero, and Scotch Bonnet are members of this species. The pod types, as well as the plants are quite varied in this species.
Capsicum frutescen: Meaning “shrubby” or “bushy”. Few varieties are widely cultivated in this species, but the Tabasco needs no introduction.
Capsicum pubescen: Meaning “hairy”. Identified by black seeds. Popular varieties include the Rocoto and the Manzano.
It is rumoured that if you grow hot peppers by your sweet bells that you will hot bells and mild hots. This is not the case. This would only happen if you saved the seed for next year’s crop. It would then be possible that you may have “hybrids”. Fruit taste and characteristics may not be what you expected. If you plan to use the seed for a true crop, the only way to prevent the possibility is to isolate the plant or crop and practice control. You can plant some of the seed next year and watch for any surprises.
See the video above to understand more about cross pollination and breeding.