Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum (Willd.) Eshbaugh, commonly referred to as “aji,” is one of the five cultivated species in this genus (Eshbaugh, 1968, 1970; Pickersgill, 1969). Archeological and other evidence suggests that the cultivated ajis (var. pendulum) were derived from the wild C. baccatum var. baccatum L. that are known as “arivivi” in Bolivia (Eshbaugh, 1976; McLeod et al., 1983; Pickersgill et al., 1979). Domestication of C. baccatum var. baccatum is believed to have occurred in Peru approximately 2500 bc (DeWitt and Bosland, 1996; Pickersgill, 1969), and the crop subsequently improved by pre-Incan civilizations. That is, selection occurred then for both fruit size and persistence. Today, the domesticated ajis are quite diverse in the size, shape, and color of their fruits (DeWitt and Bosland, 1996), whereas those of the wild form are considered less so (Eshbaugh, 1970). The pods of the cultivated ajis have a distinctive fruity flavor and they are widely used in salsas, ceviches, and as dried powders (DeWitt and Bosland, 1996).
Although both the cultivated and the wild forms of C. baccatum are indigenous to South America, the distribution of C. baccatum var. baccatum has been reported as more restricted than that of its cultivated counterpart, being limited primarily to northern Argentina, Bolivia, southwestern Brazil, western Paraguay, and central Peru with a center of diversity/origin in Bolivia/Peru (D'Arcy and Eshbaugh, 1974; Eshbaugh, 1970; Hunziker, 1950). The cultivated C. baccatum var. pendulum is native from the lowlands to the middle elevations in the previously noted countries in addition to parts of Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and a larger area within Brazil. Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum has been introduced to Central America, Hawaii, the mainland United States, and elsewhere (Smith and Heiser, 1957). A third variety C. baccatum var. praetermissum (Heiser & P.G. Sm.) Hunz. (Hunziker, 1971) is believed to have arisen from isolated populations of C. baccatum var. baccatum. Its distribution appears to be restricted to southern Brazil (McLeod et al., 1983).
Morphologic differences within and between the cultivated ajis (var. pendulum) and the wild C. baccatum var. baccatum were discussed by D'Arcy and Eshbaugh (1974), who described both varieties as having off-white corollas with a pair of yellowish, greenish, or tan markings at the base of each lobe, a calyx with five distinct teeth, and yellow anthers. The fruit of C. baccatum var. pendulum can be brown, red, orange, or lemon yellow. Its fruit are pendant (very rarely erect), persistent, firm-fleshed, and variously shaped—usually elongate and very rarely globose (D'Arcy and Eshbaugh, 1974). In contrast, fruit of C. baccatum var. baccatum typically have red fruit that are erect (very rarely pendant), deciduous, globose to oblong in shape, and 4 to 13 mm long and 3 to 7 mm wide. Although some authors have noted the ease with which these two varieties can be separated from another based on morphologic characteristics (Eshbaugh, 1970; Jensen et al., 1979), others have observed that C. baccatum var. baccatum intergrades into domesticated C. baccatum (Eshbaugh, 1980; Pickersgill et al., 1979).
Fruit color, size, shape, and so on, contribute to the quality of the aji crop. Manipulation of or selection for one or more morphologic characteristics can result in improved phenotypes. To date, relatively limited information is available on the extent of variability present for fruit characteristics of accessions within existing germplasm collections of C. baccatum. This study was conducted to examine the variability for mature fruit morphologic characteristics [length., width, length:weight (L:W), weight, and color] among 295 accessions of C. baccatum (vars. baccatum and pendulum) in the USDA/ARS Capsicum germplasm collection (Jarret et al., 1990).
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