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Pretty New Pepper Plants Developed by ARS

By Kim Kaplan
March 18, 2004

Pepper plants not only produce tasty garden vegetables, but also can be just plain pretty. Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have bred a new duo of ornamental peppers for the home and garden.

Tangerine Dream, the first of the new pair of peppers from ARS, is already available commercially. The plant produces small, orange, banana-shaped edible fruit on a prostrate plant and makes an attractive ground cover for the garden.

A second variety, to be released this summer, also features novel fruit and foliage that should appeal to the same market as the popular black-leaved sweet potato vine.

ARS plant geneticists John Stommel and Robert Griesbach were drawn to the idea of developing these new colorful ornamentals for the garden and the house because considerable diversity exists in the Capsicum (pepper) genus for fruit and leaf shape, size and color. Stommel is with the agency's Vegetable Laboratory, and Griesbach is with the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit, both part of ARS's Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Md.

The new varieties were developed jointly with the Pan American Seed Co. of Elburn, IL. Additional research and development of more new varieties continues with McCorkle Nurseries Inc., of Dearing, Ga.

Ornamental peppers have become a profitable crop for house plant growers as well as an alternative for home gardeners. The ornamental plant market in the United States is worth nearly $5 billion annually.

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