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tutorial A Self-Learner’s Capsicum Curriculum

I wanted to provide for anyone interested a collection of only the most essential, relatively up-to-date, and accurate resources for a broad, but thorough (as a burro), understanding of Capsicum.

This isn’t really about getting up to speed with basic cultivation, though. For step by step, no knowledge assumed cultivation guides, I recommend Jukka’s (aka Fatalii’s) old site. It’s a relic, but still solid; check the sidebar for a variety of other guides.

First, we need an introduction:

Peppers of the Americas

This is titled like a coffee table book, but it is actually the best presented overview available at the moment. The author writes engagingly for a general audience, but has done extensive research; everything presented is current and accurate, which can rarely be said of earlier attempts.

One would be forgiven for assuming a book by Dr Bosland might be better, given his academic credentials, but I found them oddly targeted and in any case outdated: they mostly predate the huge increase in Capsicum knowledge which occurred in the early 2000s. That said, Peppers: Vegetable and Spice Capsicums is worthwhile but not essential. The good parts are covered as well by free resources.

Next, another old website of Jukka’s, mostly in Finnish, has in English an excellent, infectiously excited overview of the Capsicum family tree by a Tommi Hietavuo, along with a series of notes on the still emerging wild species:

Wild Capsicum

If that sparked your curiosity, you’ll want to head over to the local thread for growing wilds, but be aware it can become a whole other addiction!

You want the uncut, straight dope on up-to-the minute Capsicum phylogeny? Thanks to COVID, we can listen in to the top Solanaceae scholars at Sol Seminars online. Of most interest to us, the scholars currently leading a comprehensive monograph of Capsicum, which will update and define the family for decades to come, give an update of their progress which amounts to the most authoritative view of Capsicum available publicly. It’s dry, the accents are a bit thick to my clumsy ears, but it’s worth the effort:

A Journey Through the World of “Axí”

Update: the monograph has been published, and is now the primary reference for Capsicum. This video is still useful as a partial summary, but the below strictly supercedes nearly any other source…

Monograph of Wild and Cultivated Chili Peppers (PDF, with figures inline)

The culmination of years of research by Gloria Barboza, Carolina García, et al. I wouldn’t expect many to read through this start to finish, but it’s more accessible than it may seem at first if you cherrypick for personal interest and skim for introductions and summaries. In particular, there are exhaustive and up-to-the minute details for Capsicum in general, as well as each species individually. This includes morphology, distribution, habitat, uses, names… for hobbyist purposes, it’s basically a 400 page, authoritative reference book on Capsicum from the most credentialed authors possible. For free!

Now, let’s get back to growing. Advanced cultivation comes two ways: hard won experience, and knowledge of how plants actually work. I can’t give you the hard won experience (don’t have it myself, yet), but a lot of folks on this forum can. I mine it by using:

The Hot Pepper’s dedicated search page

This lets you easily choose which subforums you’re searching. For instance, when researching a new variety, under “search in forums” I choose Hot Pepper Talk and Hot Pepper Growing, which cuts out tons of sauce talk and old glogs which often show up just because they list tons of peppers, even though few wind up being discussed.

If that results in not much, then I do include the glogs… they have valuable information, often the only information, just harder to find the relevant parts. I’m also not afraid to stalk specific posters I’ve come to trust, such as searching the name of a scotch bonnet and limiting the search to @Bicycle808, just to see if he has a take on it, or similar.

For the “how plants actually work”, we need to dip our toes into botany. It took me a long time to find a book with a useful balance of depth, accessibility, and application to home gardening. But I finally found it in:

Botany for Gardeners

It’s written by a retired botanist who dove deep into home gardening. At the same time, he missed his old Intro to Botany classes and the magic of showing students how beautifully plants operate.

Then, to apply that knowledge even more specifically to vegetables:

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

More than a guide, this is nearly a manifesto on seed saving, improvement by selection, crossing, and related topics. It’s by another retired scientist, and although it’s disorganized, it’s full of the historic triumphs of home gardeners, breeding avenues to explore, limitations you’ll run into, and practical project advice.

At this point, you might be wondering if anyone keeps a list of pepper attributes which are amenable to being bred into and out of varieties. Dr Bosland is given a chance to shine, having co-authored:

The Genes of Capsicum

Which is an explanation of naming conventions for Capsicum genes, followed by a list of known genes with brief descriptions, and finally a sort of index to the genes by plant attribute. These details can help determine feasibility, guide you to varieties known to possess what you want, and etc.

Excitingly, the brand new genes many of us are fascinated by, such as bleeding calyxes and true stripes, are so new as to not be listed. We are able to watch, even participate, as they are examined and eventually published in documents like this.

I also enjoyed:

The Chile Pepper in China: A Cultural History

This is the most authoritative account of how Capsicum reached China (we don’t exactly know, but the likeliest guess is a surprise: from themselves, sort of). The author is an academic without much gift for writing, and unfortunately the book is presented in a dry list of facts format. I won’t lie, it’s a slog. But it’s also the only accurate work on the subject. I wish there was one for every culture!


This page links to PDFs of the official releases of each NuMex variety (by convention, all peppers bred by New Mexico State University are prefixed NuMex), usually outlining how the variety was created and presenting the objective results. Useful both as authoritative descriptions of those varieties, but also as tantalizing hints at how to design and run a successful breeding program.

This study quantifies the degradation of capsaicinoids during cooking.

This study indicates that treating peppers with antioxidative oil before drying increases retention of heat and flavor.

I’ll add more as I discover them, although increasingly I have to dip into machine translating other languages. Might have to learn Spanish. Damn, I love peppers!
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@thoroughburro Great post mate, a lot of stuff yet to be read! Thanks for sharing👍
I only spend 30-40 minutes reading. There is a lot of information. Also they collected information of the root growth but not in all the varietes.
Interesting resource, thanks for the link! I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your question, but I’m glad to have an explanation and visual key for some of those.