And now for something completely different.
Yesterday, Kid 1 went outside to check her peppers – more on that later – and came back inside.
“Something is screaming in the jasmine bush.”
We all know that there are cardinals nesting in that giant bush, so Gordon and I run outside. I stand by the bush and don’t see anything.
It’s not a bird, it’s not a cat, or any other mammalian critter. This sounds eerie and weird as hell.
Kid 1 is also weirded out. “What is that?”
Me: I don’t know.
Some creature is clearly in distress and it sounds right in front of me. I lean in to look.
A skinny green snake about a foot and a half is wrapped around the branch. It’s biting a green frog on its butt. The frog is not huge but its body is about 5 times what that snake can swallow. It’s like trying to shove a lime into a drinking straw. Even if the snake unhinged its jaws all the way, this is anatomically impossible.
The snake is not letting go.
Gordon says, “Where are those forceps?”
The forceps are found and brought to him. He plucks the snake with the frog attached out of the bush, convinces the snake to let go, the frog dashes off, and the snake predictably decides to coil around the forceps and my husband’s hand, at which point it is tossed into the underbrush.
I did not take pictures during the ordeal because the matter was urgent, but we have since determined that our guest was probably a rough green snake common to our area of Texas.
The internet tells us that their diet consists of crickets, moths, grasshoppers, and other small thingies. A large cricket was probably that guy’s top prey size. What he was going to do with that frog nobody knows.
The snake matter handled, we check the peppers. Kid 1 had planted a wide variety and I was most excited about Sweet Heat pepper, which our local Lowe’s billed as a slightly spicy bell pepper. I used to eat very spicy food – at one point in my life I would eat Sichuan peppers straight – but I am older now and I try to take it easy. My mouth still likes the heat, but the rest of me not so much.
This is what Sweet Heat peppers look like. We are sure what we are because we planted their little tag next to them.
We tried a green one before and it tasted like grass. Peppers become hotter and their flavor intensifies as they ripen. One of the peppers turned red. So I, confident that I was in safe territory, decided to try it. I plucked it off the plant and bit a small piece.
Then I went directly inside, put the pepper on the island, got milk out of the fridge and then swished in my mouth while my eyes watered. Sweet heat, my ass. This tasted like an off-the-scale habanero. Like burn. Actual burn. Sweet heat peppers are not supposed to taste that way.
Two planters over, Kid 1 raised a ghost pepper, which is hot as hell.
Kid 1, who has my spicy level tolerance, and hers might actually be better than mine, tasted one of these ghost peppers before and described the experience as “instant regret.”
My question to you is, could cross-pollination between the two pepper plants have resulted in the polluting of the sweet bell pepper?
I have seen something similar happen with tomatoes, but only in second generation. Years ago my grandmother had acquired seed for the giant pink tomato. Those things were truly massive, huge tomatoes, sweet and yummy. Everyone liked them. She planted them next to yellow tomatoes, and after a couple of years of collecting and planting the seed we ended up with a hybrid plant which produced meh tomatoes.
Could cross-pollination affect heat level, or did Lowe’s con us into buying habaneros?
My friend who has been growing peppers for years stated that its almost impossible to get an “xx variety pepper” because they cross-pollinate while they are still in the ground. He’s had bell peppers that were hotter than ghost peppers and ghost peppers that tasted like water.
Laura Hunsaker says
My daughter’s little frog screams and I never believed her until she videoed it lol
And I grow bell peppers and jalapeños and I swear every season they taste different than the one before. Some spicier, some not. It’s weird. Short answer? I don’t know lol I think you’re right though.
Pollination should only affect the next generation. My bet is that the peppers were mislabeled or somebody switched tags at some point.
Andrea Smith says
This was what I’m thinking too,mislabeled. I’m not sure which is worse Lowe’s or Kohls.
It looks like a crossbred between the habaneros and bells (since bell peppers rank as a 0 on the Scoville scale they would have to be crossed with something). I would think they would use something milder though. here is the entry I found: https://www.totallytomato.com/product/T03088/64
Esther Linnenkamp says
My cat used to bring in toads. She kept them alive but slapped them so they screamed, hard! We always saved them of course, but what a noise!!
The cross pollination should affect the seeds, not the fruit of that plant. So second generation would be the new hybrid peppers. Maybe lowes had the parents of your plant too close together and inadvertently hybridized it?
Isn’t the heat mostly in the seeds, so could affect the 1st generation/parent plant heat level?
Kristen Chew says
I was telling my husband about this, and he said that it’s in the seeds and pith. If you remove the seeds and pith from a jalapeño, you remove the heat. But in a ghost pepper, half of the heat is stored in the pith and seeds, and the other half in the skin, so you are toasted either way. The link is to an article from 2016 in the Atlantic about ghost pepper heat research. (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/03/ghost-pepper-heat-research/473361/)
Rich Thompson says
The seeds are still sweet heat seeds. Inside them is DNA that is a hybrid. Then that DNA turns into a new plant, whose seeds will be half sweet heat, half ghost pepper. But the DNA has not expressed in the parent and has no heat itself, so pollen from a ghost pepper won’t make the seeds of a sweet heat plant hot. They were already hot.
Marie Amsdill says
I know cross pollination in corn causes issues (glass gem isn’t supposed to be planted next to sweet for example) But never had it happen with peppers. Stress, droughts, etc can increase hotness if I’m not mistaken.
Wow, no clue. I am sure the BDH will have at least a few master gardeners who can help sort this out. Good luck!
BTW: “Instant Regret” would be a fantastic name for a hot sauce, if not already taken.
Oh, that would be an awesome hot sauce name! Assuming, of course, that you were going for that particular consumer base.
Also “Immediately No”
We only plant one kind of pepper at a time now because they always cross pollinated and we ended up with mutants. Bell peppers ridiculously hot. Ghost peppers with no heat. Weird tasting peppers of a variety of odd shapes and sizes. We had 5 years of weird and bad pepper crops before we decided only 1 kind of pepper a year.
Google tells me that if it’s the first years’ crop where the cross pollination happened that it won’t affect taste but will cause the seeds from that crop to be affected. So if you plant the seeds that formed from that initial cross pollination then those plants will produce fruit that do have their taste affected. This link was fairly comprehensive: https://laidbackgardener.blog/2017/06/01/gardening-myth-if-you-plant-hot-peppers-and-sweet-peppers-together-it-will-alter-their-taste/?amp=1
Yes, keep your sweet peppers a good distance away from the hot.
I always say our Texas heat and mean ol’ dirt makes for hotter peppers. Try the Texas A&M jalapeño for a milder heat.
Garden adventures ????????
First off, the snake. I had a similar looking snake (in NC) wrap around my ankle & scare the bejeezus out of me 🙂 I screamed, shook my leg & the snake flew into the vines in front of me. It was about a half inch or less around & about 3-4 feet long. Of course, it slithered off as if nothing happened…
I don’t know diddly about cross-pollination, but from what you said about those tomatoes it sounds like that is what happened to the sweet peppers. Maybe move them further away from each other?
Nancy W says
Don’t have a clue about pollination etc. But I have tomatoes!!
Liv W says
Sorry, I have the black thumbs of death so there’s no help or botanical knowledge to be found here. Or reptile or amphibian ones either.
Like you, I used to eat really spicy but have eased off in recent years. My brother always claimed my taste buds were burnt off eons ago.
My friend told me years ago that you need to be careful where you plant hot peppers…that they somehow impact other foods growing nearby….no idea why.
Colleen c. says
Maybe they were mislabeled?
Michal Glines says
Entirely possible some unmentionable twit went through the pepper trays at Lowes switching the label tags when they were indistinguishable innocent green sprouts. I’ve had that happen before.
My condolences to your digestive tract! You can always grind them up in water and strain the liquid to spray on things you don’t want deer eating (or the salad of the person who switched the tags, if you could find them!). ????♀️
Angela Beck says
“Instant Regret” is the smell of my cats farts. I don’t think more likely that you got either a sport pepper, or one that was mislabeled by the store. I love the Cool-peño peppers I planted last year. Shaped like Jalapeño, but mild enough that I can taste the pepper, instead of just feeling the heat.
Angela Beck says
WOW – that is a lot of typos. Sorry.
Mary Cruickshank-Peed says
Yes. Cross pollination can happen in peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers.
Yes, it cross-pollination can happen but cross-pollination affects the seeds, not the fruit as someone said earlier. Most likely it was a changed tag or cross-pollination in the prior generation by careless growers
David Becher says
Cross pollination is almost certain to occur. The pepper is the fruit of the plant and derives from the same source as the seed, so yes, it is possible or even likely.
Yes! We had cross pollination happed with our bell peppers and our ghost pepper. We had one bell by the ghost and another across the yard, and the farther away bell was sweet as can be. The satan bell pepper was instantly off limits to human consumption. It took a few different tries before be learned to plant spicy peppers only by other spicy peppers. That being said, if you want a spicy sweet pepper my favorite is Bishops Crown, they are cool to look at and actually taste amazing! (This is coming from growing peppers in Oklahoma,so it should be pretty similar for y’all!)
Home Depot carries Bonnie brand plants. This last couple of years, they have carried Mad Hatter peppers, which are a cross between Bishop’s Crown and something else (sorry, I forget) and have the wonderfully weird shape of the Bishop’s Crown peppers, but with only a moderate amount of heat (less than jalepenos). You can actually taste the wonderful flavor of the pepper without losing all sensation in your tongue!
I know nothing about gardening, but bless you for rescuing the poor frog!
This comment has nothing to add on cross-polination. I know nothing about it and will not pretend to.
I am, though, a fan of HA’s heat rating system for peppers. “Instant regret.” *snort laugh*
Valerie in CA says
Must be snake week. A beautiful, long, Garter snake was disturbed on the walkway in front of my home. Silly me I needed to get my mail.
With a huffy look it sidewinded away.
Beautiful snake. Black with a light yellow stripe. I see them on occasion.
Louise A says
When we were raising bees, we had all sorts of cross-pollination going on. Bell peppers that were hot, varieties of cucumbers mixing it up. All sorts of weird combinations going on. Moral of story plant only one type of cucumber, plant only one type of pepper, etc, If you have bees, they can mess you up this way.
Yeah…those look a lot like habeneros. We get them from the local farmers market. Maybe somebody switched them at the store for a prank?
Bill from NJ says
Cross pollination would affect the offspring of the plants, the fruit it forms is based on the parent’s genetics, not the seed’s.
The heat level also can be affected by climate and soil conditions, it could be in a colder climate the peppers would be milder, but bc your soil and climate is different they may have become a lot hotter.
It is also possible someone put the wrong tag on the plant,too.
Hahahahaha, that snake literally tried to bite off more that it could chew (or swallow). Also, dumb question- it was the frog that was screaming? Or the snake screaming in frustration? hahahaha, I didn’t know either one could scream.
And I would love to taste the “instant regret” peppers! Sorry, I know nothing about planting and cross-pollination.
My parents told me about an Australian tour guide who made an instant enemy. They were in the outback and one of the ladies needed to “water the bushes” but was terrified of being bitten by a snake. The guide told her “Don’t worry, your butt is too big.” The snake in question had a mouth that could only fit around the tip of a pinky finger.
Yes, cross pollination can and will happen especially with peppers, zucchini & cucumbers. Peppers seem to love to cross pollinate. Made the mistake of planting either zucchini or cucumbers next to cantaloupes one year because surely, they could not possibly cross pollinate. All I can say is the results were not pretty or eatable.
We don’t plant any kind of melons anymore because they cross-pollinate with the zucchini squash and the result is not good. First generation.
Don’t know much about peppers other than to plant them in threes (triangle) so they shade each other a little & do better. But maybe only one variety at a time?
Your reaction reminded me of Alessandro eating the pepper Catalina was chopping for taco sauce.
How did the potatoes work out?
Alessandro and the habanero was my first thought! It’s almost like a fictional character got revenge on his creators …
Ha! Yes, we got cuculoupes one year. Not edible!
Brandie Garcia says
My family has been growing peppers and farming forever, and you can’t plant sweet and hot together they cross pollinate and taste weird, mostly you get all hot as that seems to be dominate. Also colors, if you plant red next to green you get a weird purplish thing that tastes weird, as green is dominate. And squash lol don’t plant next to cucumbers they are in the same family and will also cross, they taste absolutely horrible????
I will tell you in a few weeks, because I could swear that I have had that happen before. So we have Jalapenos and sweet bell in the same bed. I fear that the sweet bells will be hot. But that is not scientifically possible, according to my husband.
Worst case scenario I won’t have ghost pepper heat. Not even Serrano heat. But I would like for my grandchildren to be able to enjoy my sweet peppers.
I hope the frog heals from its ordeal.
Cross pollination is real. You need more distance. Put the ghost pepper out front, it might even keep the deer out of your bushes.
One year we had watermelon and pumpkins. The next year we had pumpmelons. Turns out pumpkins are the plant version of boudas.
Moderator R says
That gives a whole new meaning to “pumpkin spice” 😀
You could have gotten a waterpump. Handy.
I remember on an animal rescue show. Some people sledge hammered through a foundation and wall to get to a pipe to get a “kitten” out of the pipe behind the foundation and wall. Only to find it was a screaming frog camped out in a wet pipe.
They did NOT look impressed LOL
Yes, absolutely. Bees can visit both and you can get super hot bell peppers that way. The one year we had a habanero plant my jalapeños and banana peppers were inedible. The hottest we go now is jalapeño and I cluster the hot peppers in one bed and the sweet peppers in another location altogether.
One year, I thought I was planting Rutgers but ended up with Roma. Many, many Roma tomatoes.
The greenhouse had alphabetized the varieties and someone had made a mistake.
I think it is far more likely that someone made a similar mistake with your peppers than cross-pollination happened. I had trouble getting rid of all those tomatoes. Hope you have better luck!
maria schneider says
I’m pretty sure they cross pollinate. Weather does affect flavor and to some degree the heat, and also the plumpness of the pepper itself. However, with that much heat, I’d guess cross pollination. Of course, mislabeling is a constant problem. People take the tags out, look at them, and then put it down wherever. I grew the “wrong” tomato a few times and it was definitely labeling problems because cherry tomatoes are easy to identify and I never buy those plants on purpose. I much prefer grape tomatoes if I’m going to grow a small tomato.
I didn’t know frogs could scream either. Y’all have such *interesting* escapades.
Yes – not a pepper grower but my Mother was and she described a similar experience (though with different varieties of peppers than your example).
My experience says. “Yes, peppers cross pollinate>” Yours have more of an habanero rather than bell pepper shape. my take is either crossing or mislabelling and you got habaneros. At my local Farmers Mkt someone has “habanada” peppers, a heatless habanero. They taste like crap and really have no character to speak of, Some grow Padrons until they are big a ripe red- and they taste great until 5 seconds later when the heat kicks in. It is intense, and causes ropy drool and you sit there with your tongue hanging out and a painbuzz starts. Chilies are a trippy plant. Move a Scotch Bonnet from its home turf and it may turn into a habnero,
So, long story short- yes, your pepper could easily have morphed from something mildly tingly to “kill me now” blazing. 35+ years as a chef, chilie head, and farmers market patron has helped with education.
My habanadas had lots of flavor last year and bore heavily.
Mineral composition of the soil (e.g. sulphur) can affect the peppers (or any fruit). We actually recommend higher sulphur input if the goal is to get hot/hotter peppers. (we deal in fertilizers)
It affects flowering plants too. I have bought roses in bloom, glorious scent, plant them in my light, sandy soil, and presto! No fragrance.
Not every rose, but many.
MELINDA FLICK says
No answer on the peppers, they were all bugified the last time I tried to grow any and that was decades and different USDA zones ago.
BUT – when I was a kid, we had a cat who would bring in salamanders overnight. He would come in the window, mouth open, yelling at mom to See What He Caught!!! See the Fierce Hunterrrr!!! She would get up, rip a page out of Life magazine, put the salamander on the center of the page, and sail it out the window to the garden one story below. You could tell how busy the cat had been by how many pages were down there. It was not rare for me to have to go pick up 4-5 pages in the morning.
Yes! A few years ago a friend planted bell peppers, for herself, and habinero, for a friend. She gave me the bell peppers saying they were far too spicy for her. I thought she was over reacting and put them in a pot of chilli. It turned out so hot it was almost inedible even without seeds and veins.
Lindsay G says
I had it happen in my garden before. Ended up playing like pepper popper roulette as party snacks, never knew if you were going to get mild, medium, or burn your lips off.
Oh no! On the snake froggie situation. Frogs can make a lot of noise. Once i heard something VERY loud and like nothing I ever heard before. I looked all over and finally found a tiny frog the size of my thumb nail on the windowsill making the noise.
Ouch on the peppers. We’re old white people now who tolorate zero heat here.
J D says
I don’t have any gardening knowledge to share, but I found an article on growing conditions that make peppers hotter:https://www.gardenmyths.com/growing-hotter-peppers/
Some of the possible causes deemed to be non-myths include stressed plants due to lower watering levels, very high or very low nitrogen levels in the soil, the time of harvest (40-45 days of ripening produced the hottest results), warm temperatures at night, and exposure to fungus or insect attacks.
J D says
I just did some more digging and realized the reason you were asking about cross pollination is because bell peppers are not supposed to be able to produce any capsaicin. (*facepalm*) Ah, well, I did provide a warning that I had no gardening knowledge. I also have no knowledge of peppers in general, apparently.
My only other suggestion would be the highly unlikely option that the “spiciness” could actually be a manifestation of Oral Allergy Syndrome causing an itchy tongue. With a history of eating peppers with no issues, though, that’s probably not it.
Wow! They look like a bells – mostly. It might be interference from the habanero. We’ve had this happen with peppers before. The Carolina Reaper my husband, the chili head, planted did terrible, sneaky and scorching things to the sweet bell peppers and poblanos that summer. Never again in the same garden bed!
Frog screams…must have been terrifying for every being involved. Gotta love a snake with a “can do” attitude though.
Although peppers usually don’t cross, sweet peppers & hot peppers are both of the same species & can cross with each other. If pollen from a hot pepper fertilizes the flower of a sweet pepper, all of the hot pepper genes from the father plant go into the embryo and the seed. Hot stuff!
It would affect the 2nd generation not tge current. Someone may have planted the parent of your sweet heat too close to a hot pepper… or it was mislabeled.
I grew up (in a very rural area) thinking that bell peppers were hot. When I first tried “store- bought” bells, I was astonished. Turns out that the bells we grew were cross-pollinated with the hot peppers that grew a few rows over.
So many possible reasons. If the parent of the sweet pepper was pollenated by a hot pepper the result is unpredictable. I can’t think of another reason for a supposedly sweet pepper to become hot, although I have had a plant that consistently gave me mild peppers to throw one so hot it ruined a perfectly good large pizza all by itself.
Same for the hot pepper. But also if the hot pepper is not completely ripe, is grown under cooler weather conditions, or gets too much water and/or fertilizer it can cause them not to be hot.
Because I am a scientist at heart, I would sample multiple peppers from each plant and see if they are consistent. That should indicate whether it is probably genetic (consistent) or conditional (variable).
They certainly can cross pollinate. I did this, habaneros and bell peppers and jalapenos all in the same bed, and I got bell peppers you couldn’t bite into. In the hot desert climate, it seems like cross pollination goes to the hottest possible.
It definitely happens with corn, but in that case you’re eating the seeds, which are the next generation. OTOH there are certainly seeds inside peppers, which again are the next generation. I don’t know how much of the capsaicin might bleed from the seeds into the rest of the pepper.
With tree fruits like apples and pears, some varieties within the species are self-pollinating which would reduce hybridization, and some require cross-pollination from other – in some cases specific – varieties.
I’m pretty sure you can find an agronomist somewhere in Texas who could give you a definitive answer on this. They get paid for this stuff.
Beautiful snake, and ambitious as well. At least some frog species secrete pretty powerful antibiotic chemicals. That’s why they can heal from wounds while sitting in swamp water. There was a push to find a way to manufacture and test the chemicals for medical use a while back, but it seems not to have panned out.
Funny wildlife story! I didn’t know frogs could scream. I do know my anoles and skinks chirp like birds at night. So surprised when I discovered that little factoid.
Your sweet heat bells look more like habaneros to me. I imagine you could get some cross pollination however. And mislabeling does happen as well. I planted a serrano last year and it grew bells. And yes, I put the label next to the plant because I also like poblanos and young pepper plants all look alike to me. Annoyed me, as I had to go find a serrano plant rather late in the season.
Have no great expertise, but back when we used to garden, we planted jalapeños next to Italian frying peppers, and the latter turned out to be unnaturally hot. We were told by random people who gardened that pepper varieties definitely cross-pollinated when they were planted too close, so we never tried that again.
Dr. Geneticist here. Some embryonic genes can be, and in most species are, turned on during offspring (seed and fruit) development do affect the outcome. In addition, offspring (seeds) can influence the genes expressed (on, off, high, low) in the mother (plant) and embryonic support tissue (fruit).
Botanist here. Pollination at your house didn’t do it. Sneaky pollination one generation back? That could do it for sure. Inconsistent watering at your house, though, could jack up the heat levels, or any kind of growing stress. Even if the plants generally look healthy to you—and they do!—the plant could have decided that it needed to make more defense chemicals during fruit development because of some level of environmental variation or stress. Same thing happens with the bitter stuff in cucumbers. Also: the hot stuff is concentrated the most in the white placental tissues that hold the seeds and the area near the ribs (septa) that divide the fruit into chambers (locales)—removing these parts of the fruit may seem wasteful but may make the remainder more salvageable.
Yes! The capsaicin concentrates in the seeds which means heat can be expressed in sweet pepper pollinated by a hot one. For this reason, spacing is recommended between hot and sweet varieties, but let’s face it, bees fly so even 10-12 ft spacing can’t be foolproof. I’m sure you already know that the same plant can yield peppers of varying heat levels so your pretty sweet heat peppers may not all be stealth-ghosts. Equally sure you already know the trick of reducing heat by stripping out seeds and pith. Feel like experimenting?
Also, lucky ????.
The pepper on the first picture looks like Habaneros. Like the one I grow. Could it be that there is a mix up?
My mother kept a vegetable garden for years and I don’t remember strange fruits. But she did things very simple, one type of everything and repeat next year if she liked the outcome.
My sister had a planters on the balcony that impressed her urban neighbourhood. The plants were very green with small red flowers all over. People were in shock when word spread that those were not flowers but chili peppers. They were much more resilient than any plant she ever had before.
And no, nobody are them. Ever.
Donna A says
My brother grows a massive chilli plant in his front room and gets a huge crop every year. It looks fantastic and is an impressive plant. He cuts it back each winter and then it grows huge again.
The problem is while I love spicy food my digestive system doesn’t and lately my oesophagus has started to agree by closing up on capsaicin. Yet the chillies keep on coming – I still have last year’s gift to get through but apparently it’s already growing up a storm again. There’s only so many chillies a family can eat!
Peppers do readily cross pollinate, and though that *should* only affect the second generation, I’ve known lots of people who have had your exact experience. It could be that
a) the seeds themselves (and surrounding white pith) are contributing to the heat level, or
b) peppers sold as one thing were accidentally crossed by the grower, or
c) different soil and growing conditions affect the heat level that develops, and peppers that might yield sweet heat in the NE, are burn-your-face-off hot in TX.
In any case, congrats on your crop of hotties? The kids will enjoy them, it sounds like ????.
(You probably already know this, but pickling with a sweet/vinegar brine is a good way to tame the heat when peppers are too much, and if you zip your peppers through the food processor to finely chop and then cover with seasoned rice vinegar and bang it into the fridge for a day, that’s all it takes to make a fantastic hot pepper condiment.
Amount of water, soil, lots of variables create heat level. Plus sometimes you just get a hot one. I wouldn’t blame store. I would blame nature.
its possible that they did cross pollinate if you planted both before they started to flower. The genetics of the pollen IN THEORY do determine the fruit and how it turns out, but you typically dont see it until later generations and the more they mix the more its visible (or tasteable?) I haven’t raised any kind of fiery death peppers so I cant say from experience just theoretical knowledge and lots of garden research of fruits.
Kids like to swap plant tags. Somewhere there is a child is laughing at you. I grow bell peppers, jalapeños, and serranos together every year. The bell peppers are never hot.
Yes, hot peppers and sweet peppers will cross if planted nearby thanks to bees and other pollinators carrying pollen from one to the other, but that usually won’t affect the taste of fruit in the first year. However, it is possible you got one that already crossed.
Absolutely. I live in New Mexico. 1 had 2 peppers planted far apart and they cross-pollinated: 1 bell and 1 jalepeno. Once I had fruit, I cut up a bell pepper, swiped my face with my hand and had an excruciating acid burn across that side of my face. Thankfully I stumbled into the frig and was able to douse a towel with whole milk and hold it to my face. The whole milk was an accidental purchase too, although maybe not so accidental after all. Hell pepper.
As I’ve gotten older, I have found that my tolerance for heat has increased – I could never eat anything spicy when I was younger, and now I douse my food with hot sauce and hot peppers. Although I read that our taste buds don’t work as well the older we get, so maybe that’s a way of compensating for that. 🙂
Kat in NJ says
I don’t know about cross-pollination (it seems possible?) but I do know that some (or maybe most?) hybrids will eventually regress to the original form.
One year we raised the most delicious cherry tomatoes that grew in clusters, like grapes. They had the sweetest, most ‘tomatoey’ (I know that’s not a real word!) flavor. They were so good that my in-laws saved the seeds and enjoyed growing them for several years after that. We could never find the plants for sale after that.
Unfortunately, each year the resulting tomatoes grew larger and less grape-like, and the flavor grew milder and more like everyday tomatoes. It was great while we had them though! ????
Inés Heinz says
Those look more like habaneros than sweet heat to me. Sweet heat are typically longer. I bet the tag got switched accidentally before you bought them at the store. If you get a lot of the habaneros, you can cook them with sugar, garlic, and white vinegar in a slow cooker (outside or under a really good hood or you’ll have chemical warfare in your house) and then, after 8 hours as some fresh lime juice to make the most yummy chili garlic jam. I do this with Cayenne peppers too and they are less spicy and a different flavor profile.
Cross pollination should only affect the plants from the seeds that were cross pollinated. There are a bundle of things that affect the heat in the peppers, sunlight, heat, drought blah, blah, But my money says that the breeder/developer/ marketer of the plants had a vivid imagination. Catalog companies do it all the time: highly misleading descriptions of taste, hardiness, bloom length.You know, the plants that :bloom all season,” but their season is only a week and a half. Sorry you invested money, time, and effort for a disappointing result.
The snake-frog tale really made me burst out laughing, thank you, I needed that! I have spent the whole weekend immersed in my books preparing for my exams, I feel like random facts are just sprouting out of my ears.
About the peppers, I’m pretty sure according to Mendel’s laws, it should affect the next generation, but of course I could be wrong. Having said that, those chillies look VERY MUCH like habaneros. I lived in the Mexican Caribbean for 14 years, so I’m quite familiar with them.
Melinda Johnson says
I can’t handle much heat and grew the sweet heat peppers last year. They were next to our bell peppers (so no chance of cross-hotification) and they were much MUCH too hot for me.
I grew up loving and eating jalapeños, we would actually go to Mexico once a year to pick them up by the gallons. As I have aged I still love the taste of jalapeños but can’t take so much heat any more. Now I give them a bath in vinegar and sugar. The more sugar you use the more heat is pulled out. You could try this to any that are too hot for you.
As for cross pollination, YES, I have found that growing certain things too close together can ruin your crop.
Kathleen Kurdziel says
Someone may have switched the tags. This had happened to me before. I’ve grown sweet heat peppers before and they are as advertised, a sweet bell pepper with a touch of heat
Have you tried calling your local extension agent? They have offices in every county and you can take in a sample for them to identify. https://www.hillcountryportal.com/hillcountryagrilife.html
Seems like a plant mixup to me. If plant labels can easily come off it’s hard to trust them especially if someone passing through thought they were being funny by swapping tags.
Anyone else thinking of the kitchen scene with Alessandro and Catalina? ????
A. G. Boggs says
I’m going for the mislabeled side of the equation. Accidentally or purposely done, I still think mislabeled. I run into that problem a lot with tomatoes. I love beefsteak tomatoes, because in my opinion they make the best blt sandwiches. It took me 5 years of buying plants labeled beefsteak to actually get one. One year I had THREE cherry tomato plants instead of beefsteak. Everyone I knew was getting cherry tomatoes that year because those plants produced so many.
But I do have a funny hot pepper story. My family is Cajun, and, because my father was career Navy, we were never close to the family. When we were in the U.S. one of my aunts would send my father seeds for the hot peppers that the family grew for cooking. One year my Father came in looking upset because something had been nibbling on his hot peppers. They didn’t eat anything else, just those peppers. And they were very hot. A couple of days later my sister comes into the house roaring with laughter and holding her cat, Bozo. It seems that Bozo had a serious addiction to those hot peppers. He wasn’t really able to handle more that a single bite or two off of them, but he was determined he was going to eat those peppers .
Yes it can happen! My Mother found out the hard way too!
The other question about the peppers is, in a plant, does each seed have the exact same set of genetic instructions? When you grow a seed from a hybrid, will each pepper on that plant be the same or can you have variation like a litter of puppies who have a variety of traits/colours?
It is curious that those bells have come out so hot. I wonder if there is an agriculture lab around that would do some inexpensive testing to tell you what happened (just for curiosity sake).
Barbara Swanson says
Re the peppers: Welp they sure resemble habaneros. Maybe “sweet heat” was short for “sweet Jesus, that’s effing HOT! Wayyy too much heat”.
As someone who loves spicy but absolutely can no longer tolerate the results, I empathize with you.
My husband is Jamaican so we eat a lot of scotch bonnet peppers and they look like what you have there. They are very hot. ????I will use up to one pepper in a dish. Nice flavor if you don’t use too much.
Carolyn Plank says
Your first generation peppers will stay true to the state variety, regardless of which pepper pollen fertilized them. As you said, though, if you saved and planted the seeds from the cross-fertilized first generation, you run the risk of getting hot peppers in the second. It sounds more like the peppers were mislabeled.
If you like peppers with a bit of heat, but which are quite low on the heat scale for jalapeños, “Spicy Slice” peppers are relatively mild, especially if you removed the seeds and membranes. Unlike many peppers, they will be sweeter and less hot if you let them ripen to red.
Carolyn Plank says
Your first generation peppers will stay true to the stated variety, regardless of which pepper pollen fertilized them. As you said, though, if you saved and planted the seeds from the cross-fertilized first generation, you run the risk of getting hot peppers in the second. It sounds more like the peppers were mislabeled.
If you like peppers with a bit of heat, but which are quite low on the heat scale for jalapeños, “Spicy Slice” peppers are relatively mild, especially if you removed the seeds and membranes. Unlike many peppers, they will be sweeter and less hot if you let them ripen to red.
Evan fleming says
Can still get pink brandywine from Ohio heirloom they are best.p.s. if still thi king of move visit northwest ar We used to live in TX too
Am I the only one who read this and thought of Catalina/Alessandro?
Victoria Kuhn says
Yes peppers can cross pollinate. Years ago my husband and I planted a row of green peppers and a row of jalapeños. It was our first attempt at gardening and we weren’t sure if anything was going to survive. We ended up with green peppers that were almost too hot to eat and jalapeños that a puppy could gnaw on………
Peppers actually do not need to be pollinated to propogate, but simply planting the peppers near each other in the soil will absolutely cause them to take on each others characteristics. We had an entire batch of sweet bells that were almost as hot as the jalapeños we planted near them.
Michelle David says
Peppers can absolutely cross pollinate especially if close to each other. So yeah I would be leery of them all at this point.
Kyia Star says
Could be both?
But when I was living in Florida, we had an orange tree, grapefruit tree, and tangerine tree and I always thought that the orange and grapefruit tree were too close, because the oranges had a distinctly grapefruit taste.
More than likely they were mislabeled. I’ve had that happen a couple of times buying plants from the nursery. One year what was supposed to be Spanish pimento peppers, red heart shaped and sweet, ended up looking like pepperoncinis.
i’ve had cross pollination effect the heat of my peppers. from the other side of our huge back yard. we prefer mild spice levels so now i avoid all hot peppers period so we don’t get awkward surprises. haven’t had an issues since we gave up on heat.
Could be the soil. I know if you plant radishes in manure they can pretty hot.
Peppers cross pollinate very easily. When being grown for seed, the varieties have to be grown far apart from one another to prevent hybridization. But it would not affect the fruit of the plant that is growing right now. If you haven’t tried it yet, seek out a peron pepper – my new favorite. It has fruity notes that are really delicious and a good but not overwhelming amount of spice,https://www.cayennediane.com/peppers/manzano-pepper/#:~:text=From%20the%20Andes%20region%2C%20its,furry%20leaves%20and%20black%20seeds.
The fruit is the next generation though eh?
Shawna of the BDH says
Yes, having a hot pepper next to a green pepper can make them spicier, as can especially hot dry weather. We used to plant our hot peppers at least two rows away from our sweet peppers because of that. We also once had tomato fruit looking things on top of our potatoes, and although we did have the tomatoes next to the potatoes, who knew they could cross pollinate?
Yes, absolutely that could happen. We planted maize alongside pencil cob corn, and ended up with maize pencil cobs. We also planted a hot pepper with bell peppers, with the same result you had.
as far as I (as person with horticulture degree) know crosspollination does not work on phenotype only on genotype of next generation.
production of capsaicin (which is responsible for burning sensation) is basically a defend mechanism, so it might be reaction to sth trying to eat your peppers earlier in their life or to any other stressing factor like too little water, sunburn etc.
More probable though is that somebody at the shop mislabeled seeds or had a crossbreed
Climate and number of sunny day, temperature etc. also changes content of certain chemicals in plants, usually those chemicals we want for medicine or culinary reasons. So f.e. it’s impossible to harvest opioids on industrial scale from poppy milk in Eastern/Central Europe cause poppies simply don’t produce it in this climate, while in Middle East those same varieties do.
Leslie Sexton says
It’s possible. I’ve heard that if you plant different types of mint together, they start to taste alike. Which is fine but not so good for peppers and tomatoes. Of course peppers look pretty much the same as plants so they could have been mislabeled. If you can find them, try “coola-penos “ a less spicy jalapeño. It truly is less spicy. I too suffer from “ can’t eat the. Spicy stuff anymore “. ????
Shannon Campau says
Little biology from the garden for you…. keep the yawning to a minimum! You asked! 🙂
Peppers can have heat bred into them (actually my understanding it that originally they were all hot but were bred to be LESS hot to be edible) but capsaicin levels are also affected by the conditions. Stress on the plant causes the heat to rise. Stress can be a lot of things, watering habits, temperatures, etc. So your mild little pepper may have freaked out over some perceived indiscretion – (hey, not accusing you of plant abuse, it could have happened before you got it or the weather may have done it or…) and got extra hot to protect those precious seeds. That or it was mislabeled. In any case you may want to proceed with caution with all of them as I understand you have been living on the surface of the sun down there in Texas and that would cause some stress. On the other hand, “coddling” a hot pepper – perfect water and soil temperatures will create a no heat pepper.
For the tomato, the question would be if the original plant was a hybrid or open pollinated. This determines the outcome of the “children” of the plant.
A hybrid tomato is a cross between two parents. When that tomatoes seeds are planted from that original F1 seed, you have a wide array of possibilities of what might come up. Think Mendel’s pea plant grid but on a bigger scale. It takes approximately 7 + years of breeding to change a hybrid plant’s chaotic offspring to the original desired plant. This is a pretty big undertaking involving growing out hundreds of babies and culling them to preserve only the ones that exhibit the desired traits, saving seed from just those and repeating the process year after year. That first year you may only have 10 plants out of your hundred that actually exhibit the big pink tomato you want to keep. Ditch the other 90 plants, save only seed from that “success” and plant another 100 plants the next year and whoo hoo you might get 24 “yay” plants. Repeat until you get 100 % of what you wanted. Not for the faint of heart!
Open pollinated is a plant that breeds true to type. This is the goal for all that work you did with the hybrid seed. You plant a pink Brandywine tomato, you will get a pink Brandywine tomato from the saved seeds. Tomatoes don’t cross pollinate easily (pollen from another tomato plant transferred to the parent plant) because they often self pollenate before the flowers open but it can happen. Bumble bees visit tomatoes (both new world natives) and sometimes pollen from another flower can be exchanged.
In any case, there’s your science lesson for the day. You may wake up now and no there won’t be a quiz. So far you haven’t made me question your research ability with your garden descriptions and I thank you! Dina and Gertrude’s garden possibilities are swoon worthy and how fun would it be to visit and play about with them. 🙂
Cross pollination should only affect the plants grown from the seed of the resulting fruit. Fruit and flowers are entirely determined by the mother plant, no matter what pollen fertilized the flowers.
Also it’s REALLY common for nurseries, especially big box stores, to misidentify plants. Mixing up hot and sweet pepper varieties is especially common . It happens to my parents all the time; they’ve started growing their own plants from seed because it happened too many times.
The Sweet Heat peppers probably aren’t ghost peppers, they don’t look quite right, and all the ghost pepper varieties I’ve ever grown are pretty hot even when green. I can see them being a habanero variety though.
If you ever want to save seed that you can be sure is from self-fertilizing the plant, you can cover blooms with blossom bags before the blooms open to keep pollinators off the flowers. This usually still results in fruit since peppers self-pollinate so easily from wind shaking pollen onto the pistil, but you can also pollinate them by hand to make sure.
Addendum to my above comment after reading other comments – Peppers do cross pollinate easily. Still shouldn’t cause this issue, but if you save seed while growing different varieties it can be an adventure. 🙂
Tomatoes don’t cross pollinate easily, and I originally assumed peppers were similar since they’re both nightshades and have similar flower structure. Then I saved seeds from 8 different varieties of peppers all grown near each other, and got some WILD hybrids. This has never happened with my tomatoes; to my knowledge I haven’t gotten any crosspollinated tomatoes despite growing 6 very different looking varieties very closely together.
Also, to support my statements – I don’t have a botany-specific degree, but I do have a PhD in Biology, have taken a decent number of botany classes, and garden a lot and started experimenting with creating my own pepper crosses after getting the weird hybrids. One of my hot peppers is now almost a perfect black color!
William Maxwell says
Cross-pollination between the two pepper plants may result in hotter peppers in the next generation grown from the cross-pollinated seeds: the intensity of the fruit of peppers is primarily from the seed though some organic gardeners claim that this can be affected by what is applied to the plant by way of fertilizers, minerals, microbes…
Check label next time to see if there is a Scoville Heat Units (SHU) ~ rating used to rate the chilli heat /spiciness
If the “ghost pepper” is from Northeast Indian origin, it has a SHU of 1million which is 3 times hotter than Habanero chillies and nearer the 1.5+million for ‘pepper spray’.
Heat level of peppers can be changed by soil and weather. Like drastically changed.
Confirming that because the heat comes from the seeds, standard advice is to widely seperate different varieties of peppers to avoid cross pollination, as it will change the heat of the seeds and therefore the peppers
They could be a a Shishito pepper, based on your photo and searching Google for comparison.
Angel Mercury says
Those look kinda lumpy for sweet heat, I thought they had a smoother bell pepper look but narrower? I’m leaning towards them being mislabeled somehow but could be the pollinization or harsh season making them hot too.
I also garden in Texas (Austin, to be exact). I have had some mis-labeling adventures, such as buying some small sweet peppers that I basically bought for ornamental use in the corners of my garden- I have ended up with a banana pepper and what I think is an Anaheim. Bought what were labeled as cherry tomatoes and have an orange full-sized crop- all good, but not what I planned. Also planted a banana, bell, ‘coolapeno’ and Serrano in the same area, and all taste as they should: did the same last year. So I plunk down in the mislabeled camp, though just an amateur gardener, not as learned as some of those replying. Also have some very noisy frogs!
It does look like bell pepper. Habaneros plant have smaller leaves. I grow them in Florida and I love the spice level because I’m from Jamaica ????????
We have cats that are indoor/outdoor and especially during hurricane season we we’ll meet, dread it because they bring frogs in which does scream and when they escape the climb on the ceilings above our bed and then I exit our bedroom until hubby get them back to safety outside….,eeewww just eeewww
Oh dear! Was giggling so hard about the snake! Poor little frog. My hubby would have running the other way as soon as the snake was spotted!
I’m not much on peppers but checked images of both on Google. May have been mislabeled? Looks to me like the sweet heat peppers are a bit longer then what yours are?
Bell peppers (capsicum) and Black Russian chillies can absolutely cross pollinate in the first generation. I had green capsicum with black stripes and a pleasant warmth that the bees must have done their thing with to create.
The first year I lived in FL, I grew jalapenos, cayenne peppers, poblanos, and bell peppers next to each other. Because I was very close to the water, I did not have bees pollinating, but I did have a lizard that lived in the bushes and I am pretty sure did all of the pollinating by rapidly running back and forth through all of the flowers. The lizard was frequently covered in visible pollen when I saw it, which is where that theory comes from. My resulting peppers from the rapid cross-pollination was that the bell pepper burned my fingers when cutting them up, although none of the heat translated to eating them, and the cayenne peppers looked like bell peppers but still tasted like cayenne. The poblanos and jalapenos, despite being between the other two, turned out without changes. That was also where I discovered that you cannot get hot jalapenos in FL. The amount of water you have to apply to keep them from wilting in the heat causes your jalapenos to have no heat themselves. I had that problem the entire time I lived in FL.
Ana María says
Yes. Sweet and hot peppers should be planted separately. If not all the peppers will be hot.
My first thought is someone being a jerk and switching the tags, so you actually planted something else.
Mary Beth says
I think someone at Lowe’s (likely another shopper) messed around with the plant labels and you guy’s got ‘ghost peppered’.
I’ve seen people do this when I was still shopping at Lowe’s for plants. I quit going there for that among other reasons. When I could still plant veggies, I would make a road trip up to my parents house and we’d get our plants there.
My mother gets all her bell peppers from a local lady who actually built a green house specifically for her red, yellow, and orange bell peppers. No other species allowed in there. She swore up and down planting any hot pepper near those would ruin them. I thought she was being silly, but I’m not a hot pepper eater either. Looks like she was right.
Maria M. OToole says
They’re the same species as the hot ones, I think. Just mutant varieties without the capsaicin!
I grow only sweet peppers and I found out that the odd ball varieties I like get sweeter with a higher sugar content as they get redder not hotter. I had no idea until one of the places I buy the seeds from told me. I had always been trying to grab them at yellow green to avoid heat and turns out I should wait! Corbaci is a great one. Super productive too.
Maria M. OToole says
I have a friend who considers Dave’s Insanity hot sauce a condiment. Me, I don’t mind some burn…but not like that! And I prefer the shorter lived burn, like horseradish.
Vickie H Loftis says
Yes, you can cross contaminate peppers. I plant my hot peppers in the back yard, and the sweet peppers in the side yard, and every once in a while you will get a bell pepper with a little kick. I guess our bees have a range, and a sense of humor! Try making them into a sweet pepper relish. You can use it in things like chicken salad. You will get a kick without a bunch of burn that way. https://www.keyingredient.com/recipes/535500025/sweet-pepper-relish/
Garden: My parents actually, at a point long ago, grew cantaloupes that tasted of hot peppers. I think that it is pretty easy to get hotter peppers than you expect.
Probably not cross pollination, since that will only impact the next generation, but it could be environmental. Soil composition, water, temperature, etc. will all have an impact on how spicy it is. Long hot dry days (like I assume you get in Texas) will increase the spiciness of the pepper.
You might try growing Cubanelle Peppers – I’ve heard they keep the sweet with a little heat. I don’t know that for a fact yet, but I want to try them next year (too late for me this year). But I would not grow hot peppers that year.
Yes, you can make spicy tomatos if you plant them next to hot peppers
My husband plants jalapenos every year and most of them are very mild, and then randomly there will be one pepper (not plant but single pepper) that is extremely hot (far beyond a normal jalapeno heat).
Kerry Ann says
Those peppers look like scotch bonnet peppers which are very hot. I agree with Dana, the peppers were mislabeled.
+1 on the mislabelling. Additionally, I grew up knowing these as scotch bonnets (my heritage is English West Indies) but I’ve seen them labelled as ‘habaneros’, “red savina”<—-this is have the fire extinguisher aka ice cream on standby.
Lynn Thompson says
Thank you, Ilona Andrews for the post.
I ROFLOL, yes this has happened to me. Every year I plant sweet bell peppers and at least one hot pepper for my BIL. After the first year —educational — I learned to plant hot peppers far away from my sweet peppers.
Last year was serano peppers but due to Covid pandemic my Mexican neighbor got them all. So this year it’s Serano peppers again. In containers on porch so I can transport them to BIL home once I am sure they will survive.
I want to laugh. Loudly. No so much about your content but because of your presentation and how it invokes memories of my own garden. Thank you for lightening a very heavy week.
Bit late but yes, this absolutely happens with pepper family cross pollination. Every pepper is a magical mystery roll of the dice!
Cross pollination occurs at the flower stage and it is definitely a possibility that the two peppers mixed.
I was told the definition of ghost peppers, is when u bite into one of those you see the Holy Ghost.
Wendy’s does make a ghost pepper French fries that are to die for, but you should have a glass of milk on standby ????
Deborah StLaurent says
Your soil will affect the heat as will. we tried growing just jalapeño peppers near Savanah and they came out like ghost peppers. My husband was very pleased. I wasn’t.
Peppers easily cross pollinate, so it’s a definite possibility that the sweet pepper is actually a hybrid and spicier.
Also, peppers get spicier the more “stressed” the plants are. Meaning if the plant isn’t watered adequately, or the weather gets too hot, etc., those conditions make the fruits spicier than normal.
See below’s link for a list of conditions that make peppers spicier.
Bobbi L says
Has an avid Texas gardener of peppers. It was labeled wrong and is quiet common from box store greenhouse and nurseries like Lowes/Home Depot and even Calloway’s. Usually small nurseries are pretty good about keeping labels correct because they usually grown their own plants in greenhouses, but accidents happen. BTW – I get all my peppers from Lowes (gotta love that 5% discount on the card) and it’s always a crapshoot as to what is actually maturing in the bed. There’s always at least one plant was mislabeled.
BTW – a screaming frog would be an interesting ring tone on a phone. lol.
Sue Young says
Lessee, I did actually study college botany and the way your grandmother’s tomatoes worked makes sense. I could see seed from the “bell” pepper churning out hot peppers next year but not in generation zero. Lowes must have screwed up
Cross pollination is totally a thing that happens with peppers. We’ve been trying to get our ghost peppers to tango with the birds eye chili peppers for a while but so far no luck. It apparently only happens when you don’t want it to.
Patrick Easter says
Yes – a subscriber’s husband here. As a radio jock, back when there were – yes kids – local stations, my #1 fan brought me some goodies from his garden. Including some sweet bananas. So I thought. They had grown next to some cayennes. He left. I took a big bite. Flames erupted. A bed of coals glowed where once there was a mouth. Pant. Gasp. Big breath. Mic on. Warm and friendly announcement.
Mic off. Screeam!!!
Also, my father once planted bell & banana peppers next to a pequin bush. Similar effect.
I’m Mexican, I’m from a city called Campeche, and we eat habaneros regularly with all our food. I can tell you that those look definitly like habaneros. They can be red, yellow or green, and they are spicey like hell.