Propagating Native Plants: Chile Pequin

Capsicum annuum
Capsicum annuum

Growing Chile Pequin from Wild Seed

What follows is not exactly a ‘how to’ guide because I am weaving this together as I go. It is more like a note to my future self =)

While seed packets usually come with instructions those who forage for seed have to rely on the knowledge and experience of others. Or get lucky.

Wild Chile Pequins are not nearly as easy to grow as garden peppers in my experience. Many of the seeds seem to be duds and the ones that are alive can be chaotic.. That is probably good news for genetic diversity and the plant’s long term survival but it can be frustrating for gardeners accustomed to domesticated, reliable and predictable seeds. And those chaotic germination patterns have led to wildly varying folk rules and lore. Every recommendation I have seen has someone somewhere swearing the opposite is true. So this is my starting point: what I’ve heard. As I experiment with the different variables hopefully I’ll find out what works locally for me.

When to sow: I’ve seen recommendations for both fall and spring sowing. If planting in the spring you would probably have to use a heating pad and start the seeds indoors about 10 weeks before the last frost date. Since they are perennials in Central Texas it might be less bother to sow them in the late summer or early fall.

Special treatment: Many sources recommend sterilizing these seeds as they are susceptible to moulds and fungus. The most reasonable suggestion I found was to soak the seeds in nine parts water to one part bleach or hydrogen peroxide. But for how long? Some say 15 minutes; some say 6 hours.

From my own experience I have noted some juglone intolerance so don’t place them anywhere near pecan or walnut trees. I plan to grow mine in pots.

Fresh or dried seed: Both methods have champions. I am going to try both to see what happens. To dry, slice open the fruit and let the seeds dry slowly at room temperature. Scrape out the seeds to store or sow.

Planting depth: I’ve seen recommendations range from 1/8-1/4-1/2 inch deep. Some even say they need light to germinate. I am going to start with a light covering for now.

Preferred temperature for germination: Most sources seem to agree that chile pequin seeds want warm soil ranging from 75-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Days to germination: One person observed seeds germinating after 6 months. Some sources have observed germination within 14 days.

Vegetative propagation: Chile pequins can be grown from tip cuttings.

One thing is clear: birds really do love these peppers and they seem to be responsible for the plant’s dispersal. Many people have observed that volunteer plants tend to sprout up where birds tend to perch leading to a couple of interesting speculations:

1. That the seeds benefit from passing through a bird’s digestive system; and/or,

2. That they benefit from a nurse shrub to get started.

I’m not sure if these are coincidences but I am going to take them as clues for success. The stress and HCL of a bird’s digestive system might wear down the seed coat or kill any potential fungus or mould that could harm the seed so soaking and sterilizing dried seeds might be worth the effort.

I am less certain of the nurse plant theory. I think it is more likely that chile pequins prefer shade rather than full sun and that is why they seem to thrive under or near protective shrubs and trees but anything is possible.

Update October 19, 2014:

Planted September 19; Germinated October 9 (19 days)
Very poor germination rate (just over 12%)
Pretreated fresh seed by soaking in a mild bleach solution overnight.
Planted in moist potting soil with a very light covering of soil.
Daytime temperatures have been hot (in the nineties); evening temperatures in the seventies.

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11 thoughts on “Propagating Native Plants: Chile Pequin

  1. Ours were brought in by birds, and we simply let alone those that grow in non-obnoxious places. We have more than we need, more than we can use, and the birds seem to love them.

    Oddly, with few exceptions, the birds seem to pick great places for the plants to grow. Of course, if seed germination is only 12%, they may be planting a lot where the stuff just doesn’t grow.

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    1. Birds are clever gardeners. Sometimes I am tempted to remove their plantings but usually if I let them be I find that they have chosen wisely. The birds haven’t planted chile pequins here but they have done an excellent job of planting redbuds and hollies. I am most grateful. =)

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  2. I’ve only bought plants and tended to bird planted bushes but would love more. I’m watching your seed journaling with keen interest. I’d had Chile Pequin plants both prosper and die off in varying conditions here. The ones that do well here get several hours of full sun for bloom and fruit set. They also get some supplemental water during the hottest months of the year (but not much). They get to be good sized but respond well to light pruning. Perhaps you’d have room for a raised planting bed as opposed to a pot? Do you raising a bed and bringing in soil/amendments would provide good enough a barrier for the juglone?

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    1. Oh my goodness. Thanks for sharing all this info. Local knowledge is always the best. The shrub I see on my daily walk seems to be growing in a pretty shady spot but I haven’t actually watched to see just how much sun it is really getting. If you say they need about 5 hours of sun that will be my guide.

      A raised bed might work but I suspect the tree roots will quickly exploit any opening since everything is so crowded here. I might try it anyway since in my imagination I pictured using a really large pot but that is what a raised bed is in effect.

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  3. Interesting information! I think you are on to something with the bird theory. Our favorite grower had Chile Pequin plants this spring and we got a couple for each of our grew…they were super happy!

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