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 annuum: Annum meaning "annual", actually misleading given chiles 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
There is a wide range of reference materials available for identification (see Resources), but keep in mind, if you like the
pod and have room for in the garden, get some seeds and grow it.