Issue: November 3, 2007
Chiles for New Mexico holiday houseplants
I saw some chile plants in pots at my local nursery. Why are they selling them now? I thought they always die in the winter!
Chile plants are actually frost tender perennials. That means they will grow and produce chiles until frost kills the plant. If you take the plants indoors, and give them enough sunlight, water, and warmth, they will continue flowering and producing chile pods through the winter.
Dr. Bosland, New Mexico State University professor and chile breeder, has exploited that characteristic in selecting ornamental chiles for use during the holiday season. He has selected several varieties that are excellent houseplants for winter decoration.
Chile plants are no more difficult to grow than most other houseplants, but their pods last longer than most houseplant flowers. Like the poinsettia bracts (colorful leaves just below the small flowers), chile pods are colorful and maintain their color for a long time. That makes them excellent candidates for use as an ornamental plant. Unlike the poinsettia bracts, the chile pods are edible and a spicy addition to winter cuisine. They will also bloom again before next winter and produce an ongoing supply of chile pods for your kitchen, so donŐt be afraid to harvest them for the kitchen. There will be more.
Several varieties are available in New Mexico this year. NuMex Halloween, NuMex Thanksgiving, NuMex Christmas, Explosive Blast, and Explosive Ignite are available. These come in a variety of foliage and pod colors. Two of these varieties have purple foliage while the others have green leaves. Pod colors usually begin green, but may also start as a purple. However, chile pods mature another color. The mature pod colors may be yellow, orange, or red depending on the variety. Imagine a plant with purple leaves and yellow or red fruit. There may even be some purple immature fruit mixed in for good measure. Won't that brighten your holiday table! A couple of older ornamental varieties are also available. NuMex Twilight and NuMex Centennial are taller growing multi-colored varieties more suited to a sunroom. They are great ornamental room brighteners like those the smaller varieties mentioned first. By the way, these are all hot varieties!
If you would like to see these colorful chile plants and learn a lot more about our beloved New Mexico chile peppers, go to http://chilepepperinstitute.org. At this site you can learn about places to purchase these plants or where your local nursery can get plants for you. You can also call Danise Coon at the Chile Pepper Institute (575) 646-3028 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now you can celebrate the holidays in a uniquely New Mexico way. Chile pepper houseplants will warm up your windowsills and your stomach on cold winter days.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: email@example.com, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.
Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!