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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Black Pearl: Beauty with a Bite / April 26, 2006 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Black Pearl pepper plant.
Black Pearl. Image courtesy U.S. National Arboretum.

Black Pearl: Beauty With a Bite

By Laura McGinnis
April 26, 2006

A new culinary ornamental pepper bred by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Beltsville, Md., is earning accolades in the gardening community.

The eye-catching Black Pearl, released in 2005, was honored as a 2006 All-America Selections (AAS) winner. The award recognizes new flower and vegetable varieties that demonstrate “superior garden performance” in trials conducted throughout the country.

With moderately shiny black leaves and glossy fruits that ripen from black to red, Black Pearl offers a temptation few pepper enthusiasts can resist. ARS plant geneticists John Stommel, of the Plant Sciences Institute’s Vegetable Laboratory, and Robert Griesbach, of the U.S. National Arboretum’s Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, collaborated to breed this popular prize-winner.

How does a plant become an AAS winner?

The first step in breeding any new pepper cultivar is to select the desired characteristics -- in this case, dark leaves and densely clustered, round, black fruits.

It took years to refine Black Pearl’s striking appearance and spicy flavor. Once perfected, it underwent hundreds of trials to determine its response to different environments. Stommel and Griesbach tested Black Pearl with help from private-sector cooperator PanAmerican Seed Company, Elburn, Ill., which entered the plant in the AAS competition.

In trials, Black Pearl thrived in a variety of environments throughout the country. In addition, it resisted the ravages of drought, as well as of many insects and fungi. Robust, attractive and tasty, Black Pearl was a natural winner -- and the AAS judges weren’t the only ones to think so. Since it went on the market, more than 2 million seeds have been sold.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Last Modified: 4/26/2006