Ornamental peppers (Capsicum annuum L.) belong to the plant family Solanaceae, which includes ornamentals such as the Brugmansia (Angel’s trumpet), Brunfelsia, Browallia (Bush violet), Datura, Nicotiana, Petunia, and Salpiglossis. Solanum pseudocapsicum (Jerusalem Cherry) and Solanum capsicastrum (False Jerusalem Cherry) are often confused with ornamental pepper.
The genus Capsicum is native to the tropics of Central and South America. Pepper cultivation is ancient in the Americas where they were valued for their culinary and medicinal properties (Pickersgill, 1969a, 1969b). Peppers were introduced to Europe by Columbus, and subsequently to Africa and Asia by the extensive trading routes of the Spanish and Portuguese. When introduced to Europe in the 15th century, peppers were held in higher esteem as an ornamental plant than as a food source. Ornamental peppers as potted or bedding plants and a florist crop are still popular today (Stommel and Bosland, 2005).
Ornamental peppers have been known as “Christmas peppers” for many years in the floriculture industry (Harthun, 1991). Pepper plants with vibrant green foliage and bright red fruits have traditionally been sold during the winter holiday season. Ornamental peppers with their bright contrasting colors and edible fruits were the most popular Christmas gift plant until the 1960s when the poinsettia industry began to introduce and promote improved poinsettia cultivars.
Modern ornamental peppers exhibit considerable diversity in plant habit and morphology. Plants range in size and shape from short, compact plants with small fruit, such as ‘Holiday Cheer’, to plants as tall as three to four feet, with full-sized fruits, such as ‘NuMex Mirasol’. This diversity, together with assorted ripe fruit color and varying hues of green to purple to black foliar pigmentation, affords a myriad of opportunities to develop unique ornamental cultivars suitable for use as potted types, bedding and garden plants, and cut stems.
Ornamental peppers grown as potted plants are widely marketed for retail sale in the fall and winter months. Availability of compact plants with colorful fruit, ease of propagation from seed, relatively short cropping time, heat and drought tolerance, and excellent keeping quality are valuable attributes of ornamental peppers for commercial propagators. As bedding and garden plants, heat and drought tolerance and vibrant colors, have made ornamental peppers popular as border or specimen plants, or in mass plantings.
The Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the release of the ornamental pepper (C. annuum) Christmas Lights cultivar series. The Christmas Lights series comprises four cultivars named Christmas Lights Blue/Red, Christmas Lights Blue/Orange, Christmas Lights Yellow/Red, and Christmas Lights Yellow/Orange. Color designations denote immature/mature fruit color for the respective cultivars. These cultivars are intended for ornamental applications. With their compact growth habit, prolific fruit set, and distinctively shaped fruit with vibrant contrasting colors, the Christmas Lights cultivars are well-suited for bedding plant production and container plant production, during the summer and fall garden and holiday season.
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