Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rogue Peppers

One of these peppers is not like the other. One of these peppers just doesn't belong...

Actually I've got two pepper plants that don't belong, but that's how the song goes. Looks like there was a little bit of a mix-up with some of my pepper seeds.

One of the varieties I planted is Emerald Giant, a bell pepper from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I noticed a while ago that one of them looked different, with much smaller leaves then the others. Here you can see the oddball on the left, with a normal looking one with large leaves on the right (and more behind).

I thought maybe something had happened to that one. Maybe it got damaged or chewed on by bugs or something that stressed it out, causing it to grow smaller leaves.

Well, now that they're setting fruit, I'm sure that's not what happened. Here is what all the other plants in that patch look like, with small bell peppers growing.

And here's the fruit on the one with the small leaves. Definitely not a bell pepper. Looks like a Cayenne, or some other long, very skinny pepper.

So Baker Creek got a seed of some kind of Cayenne-like pepper mixed in with my Emerald Giants. I've heard of these sorts of things happening before (mistakes are bound to happen at seed companies), but I've never had it happen to me. The thing that worries me is that I was planning on saving seeds from those Emerald Giants, so I wonder if they've cross-pollinated by now. At least now I know what to look for if I do try to grow a second generation of these.

But that's not the only "wrong" pepper out there. Meanwhile, in the Lemon Drop patch, I noticed a while ago that one of them was much taller than the other plants. It's a little hard to see in this picture, but one of the plants towers above the rest. So I thought maybe that plant also had something happen to it to grow more vigorously. Maybe all the other plants got stressed and that one didn't. It also has larger, darker leaves.

Here are what normal Lemon Drop peppers look like. When they set fruit, the fruit sticks up in the air, and doesn't flop over until it gets big and heavy. With most peppers I've grown before, the fruit grows down from the beginning.

Here's the fruit from the much taller plant among the Lemon Drops. It's another long pepper, but much bigger and fatter than the small-leaved pepper, so it's yet another mystery pepper different from the other one. The fruits also point down right from the beginning, and the fruits are a darker green. I really don't know what kind of pepper it is.

At least the Lemon Drops are a different species of pepper from the others, so cross pollination isn't a worry. I got the Lemon Drop seeds from a trade online, not a seed company, so that shows you that it's not only seed companies which can make these mistakes.

The lesson I've learned here is that different varieties of pepper plants can look a lot more different than I expected. I never grew this many different pepper varieties before, and I thought that all the plants pretty much looked the same, and it was just the fruit that looked different. Well, now I know better. I've heard of "roguing for off-types" when I've read about seed saving, so I guess that's probably what I should have done with these odd-looking pepper plants before they flowered, but I had assumed it was an environmental, not genetic, difference. After all, these poor plants have been horribly abused by me (being planted in pots in fall, then kept over the winter, pruned until they're practically bonsai, then chewed on by a caterpillar infestation), so I expected that to have some effect on them.

I don't have the heart to pull the mystery peppers out now, though. I want to see how they end up tasting. This also makes me even more eager to grow a big variety of peppers next year and see more of the variation between them.

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