Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum
One of south Florida’s tastiest native plants was at one time a major driver of world exploration and trade and is currently being grown as a culinary delight around the world. The bird pepper is a wild relative of many common garden-grown peppers, ranging from the mild bell pepper to the fiery cayenne pepper. The flavorful and spicy heat, or Scoville rating, of our native bird peppers can vary from year to year and from plant to plant, depending on growing conditions and plant genetics, but can be quite hot. Native peoples across the New World tropics took advantage of the fruit’s pungent flavor and used it as an ingredient in spicy condiments. The fruit have also been used historically as a medicine to treat a wide range of ailments.
The name ‘bird pepper’ comes from the plant’s relationship with birds. If you make a place for this small native shrub in your landscape, you will find yourself in a battle with birds over the delicious fruit. Mockingbirds and other songbirds often eat the small green fruit before they have a chance to ripen and turn red. A second native pepper, the tobacco pepper (Capsicum frutescens), has a similar appearance and can be grown in the landscape in similar conditions.
Author: Chad Washburn, Director of Education and Conservation at Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published in the News-Press.