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Capsicum frutescens

Previously known as:

  • Capsicum conoides
  • Capsicum minimum
Phonetic Spelling
KAP-sih-kum froo-TESS-enz

Tabasco Pepper is a multi-branched erect annual or perennial plant that grows in the form of a shrub. It measures 4-6 feet tall and 1.5 to 2 feet wide. The flowers are white to greenish-white and bloom between August and September. The fruits grow erect and turn bright red when they mature. They are used as a condiment or flavoring that has a dry and smoky taste. Tabasco Pepper is a member of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. Other common names include Capsicum, Bird Pepper, and Hot Pepper. Cultivars include Tabasco, Piri Piri, and Hawaiian Pepper.

The plant is native to Bolivia and West Central Brazil. It was cultivated as a condiment or used in the treatment of some medical disorders. Its use dates back to 1200 BC. The plant may be found in abandoned cultivated areas, forest edges, thickets, and roadsides. The peppers are rich in vitamins A and C. The Tabasco Pepper has been introduced and is widespread in North America, Central America, and South America, the Pacific Islands, portions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of Australia.

The genus name, Capsicum, comes from the Greek word "Kapto" which means "to bite." The species name, frutescens, is Latin and means "becoming shrubby."

The Tabasco Plant prefers a warm and sunny location. They grow well in humus-rich, well-drained loam, or light sandy soils. They prefer an acidic pH, but they will tolerate neutral and alkaline soils. They are not drought tolerant and need consistent moisture levels. Plants should be brought indoors if temperatures are predicted to drop below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Small stakes may be required to support the plant in the garden or container. Gloves and garden shears are recommended when harvesting the peppers. 

The plant is propagated by seed in a seedbed or container. They germinate in 3-4 weeks. Once the plant is 3-4 inches tall, it may be transplanted to the garden. The plant is pollinated by insects. The fruits may be harvested in about 3 months. It is classified as a perennial, but it generally lasts only 2 years. Most of the fruit is produced in the first year. If it is treated as an annual, it may be grown in a container in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 8 and then brought indoors when the temperature drops.

The leaves of the plant are dark green lanceolate to ovate and measure 4-8 inches long and 2 inches wide. The 2-4 flowers appear on the branches or leaf axils. The flowers are not typically solitary. The fruits are small erect ellipsoid berries that are initially green and transition to bright red when mature. The stems are erect multi-branched and have a zig-zag pattern. The sap of the plant can cause the skin to blister. It is important to wear gloves when handling this plant. 

Most plants of the Solanaceae family contain poisonous alkaloids.  Only the fruits of this plant should be ingested. The edible fruits can be served raw or cooked and are "very hot" to taste. The fruit can be dried or ground into powder. The seed may also be ground and used like pepper. 

The dried fruit when used medicinally is a local stimulant. It may be used to stimulate circulation or as a gastrointestinal detoxifier. The fruits contain 0.1-1.5 % capsaicin which stimulates circulation. When it is applied topically, it will numb the nerve endings and is used as a local anesthetic. Capsaicin is the main ingredient in many ointments or creams for pain relief.


Quick ID Hints:

  • Stems are erect, branched, zig-zag pattern
  • Leaves are dark green, lanceolate to ovate, entire margins, 4-8 inches long and 2 inches wide
  • Flowers appear on a branch or leaf axil in a group of 2-4, white to greenish-white
  • Fruits are an erect berry, ellipsoid shaped, transitions from green, yellow, orange, to red at maturity

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: The Tabasco Plant has very few pests or diseases. The plant typically repels insects.  The Helicoverpa assulta or Oriental Tobacco Budworm is reportedly only one of a few insects that can tolerate capsaicin. This insect is typically found in Asia, Africa, and Australia. In very hot or humid climates, bacterial soft rot, gray mold, black mold, and anthracnose can occur. 


VIDEO Created by Elisabeth Meyer for "Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Nuts" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.   


More information on Capsicum.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Hawaiian Pepper
  • Kambuzi Pepper
  • Malagueta Pepper
  • Malawian Pepper
  • Piri piri
    also known as African Bird's Eye or African Devil
  • 'Tabasco'
    Fruit used to make Tabasco Sauce
  • Thai Pepper
Hawaiian Pepper, Kambuzi Pepper, Malagueta Pepper, Malawian Pepper, Piri piri, 'Tabasco', Thai Pepper
#cultivars#white flowers#shrub#herbaceous perennial#red fruits#edible fruits#green leaves#contact dermatitis#perennial
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • Hawaiian Pepper
  • Kambuzi Pepper
  • Malagueta Pepper
  • Malawian Pepper
  • Piri piri
    also known as African Bird's Eye or African Devil
  • 'Tabasco'
    Fruit used to make Tabasco Sauce
  • Thai Pepper
Hawaiian Pepper, Kambuzi Pepper, Malagueta Pepper, Malawian Pepper, Piri piri, 'Tabasco', Thai Pepper
#cultivars#white flowers#shrub#herbaceous perennial#red fruits#edible fruits#green leaves#contact dermatitis#perennial
  • Attributes:
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    The Tabasco Pepper is cultivated for use as a condiment and treatment of some medical disorders. The fruit is a local stimulant and may be used as a gastrointestinal detoxifier, stimulate circulation, or local anesthetic.
    Life Cycle:
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Bolivia to West Central Brazil
    Widespread in North, Central, and South America, Pacific Islands, Australia-- New South Wales and Queensland, Africa--Mozambique, Rwanda, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, Zaire, and Zimbabwe, Southeastern Asia, United States--AR, CA, FL, GA, HI, IL, KY, LA, MA, MI, MO, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds are immune to the capsaicin in peppers and can safely eat the fruits with no ill effects. Therefore, these plants may attract birds.
    The Tabasco Pepper fruit may be served raw or cooked and is normally very hot when used as a flavoring. It may also be dried and ground into a powder for flavoring. Only the fruits of this plant should be ingested.
    Height: 4 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Warm Season Vegetable
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    9a, 9b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fruit Type:
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Once the flowers are pollinated, the plant begins to produce fruit. The fruit is a berry and has an erect growth habit. Initially, the berry is green, then turns yellow, then orange, and finally turns bright red. The berry is ellipsoid to lanceolate in shape. It measures 10-20 mm long and 3-7 mm wide. The seed is yellow to yellow-orange, ovoid in shape, and measures 3-5 mm in length.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Flower Description:
    There are 2-4 flowers in each branch or leaf axil. They are rarely solitary. The flower's corolla is white, greenish-white, or pale green in color. The anthers are blue-green or purple. They usually bloom between August and September.
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Leaf Shape:
    Leaf Margin:
    Hairs Present:
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The leaves are dark green and measure 4 to 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. The leaf is lanceolate to ovate in shape and has an entire margin. The base of the leaf is cuneate in shape.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Stem Cross Section:
    Stem Form:
    Zig Zags
    Stem Description:
    The stems are erect, branched, and have a zig-zag form. The cross-section of the stem is angular. The stems are woody near the base of the plant.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Landscape Theme:
    Edible Garden
    Design Feature:
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Problem for Children