Puzzling Pepper Pollination

Yesterday was pepperoncini harvest day. I didn’t pick a peck of pickled peppers, but I picked a bunch, as you can see in the picture above. The interesting thing is that every one of those peppers was picked from plants that germinated from seed sown from the same seed packet. Yes, I grew these plants from seed myself, from one packet purchased from a well-known seed company. Believe it or not, every one of those fruits is a pepperoncini! It is obvious that the seed packet I purchased contained cross-pollinated seed. I found it so fascinating, I thought I’d check out Gregor Mendel’s theory on genetics.

Gregor Mendel is considered to be the father of the science of genetics. He explained that the child of two parents (animals, people, or plants) receives DNA from each of the parents and will exhibit characteristics of both, based on which genes are dominant and which recessive. Based on experience, we gardeners know that cross-pollinating plants creates hybrids that exhibit some characteristics of each of the parent plants.

Because I didn’t cross-pollinate these plants myself, nor do I know what other pepper plants grew near the pepperoncini parent, I have no idea what other pepper DNA was received. By appearance alone, it seems Mama pepperoncini got around!

Cross-pollinated pepperoncini ~ grown from same seed packet

Cross-pollinated pepperoncini ~ grown from same seed packet

I decided to see if there was a taste difference along with the visual difference. Could I tell by sight and taste what the other parent was? I nicknamed all my peppers and started the experiment. Referencing the picture above, I will start on the bottom right and work my way counter-clockwise.


I decided to start with the peppers that look like pepperoncini. (To be honest, I picked those a little too early; they’re still too green. But I wanted to have some peppers that looked like pepperoncini for this experiment.)

My pepperoncini

My pepperoncini

Pickled pepperoncini ~ photo credit: http://public-domain-images.blogspot.com

Pickled pepperoncini ~
photo credit: http://public-domain-images.blogspot.com

Compared to the pepperoncini in the picture above, my pepperoncini has the wrinkled characteristic of a true pepperoncini. Mine is a little greener because it’s not pickled and because I picked it a little too early. As for taste, my pepper had the taste of a pepperoncini but without the heat. Again, they weren’t ripe. When they do ripen, they’ll be perfect for pickling.


The next one I tried was the pepperoncini that is shaped like a bell pepper.

Pepperoncini shaped like a bell pepper

My pepperoncini shaped like a bell pepper

Green bell pepper ~ photo credit: www.clker.com

Green bell pepper ~ photo credit: http://www.clker.com

My peppers definitely have the color of pepperoncini with a bell shape. Notice the round top and the bumps on the bottom. The taste was sweet like a bell pepper, yet with a very mild heat – almost as an afterthought. Yes, I think it’s safe to say that Daddy Bell came calling for Mama Pepperoncini on this one. These peppers will be used in salad, I think.


I searched pictures of several types of peppers to see what shape this was closest to, and I think it looks like a banana pepper.

My pepperoncini ~ shaped like a banana pepper

My pepperoncini ~ shaped like a banana pepper

Banana peppers ~ photo credit: www.clovegarden.com

Banana peppers ~ photo credit: http://www.clovegarden.com

My pepper has the color of both a pepperoncini and a banana pepper. It’s long and slightly curved like a banana pepper, too. The taste was interesting. At first bite, it was almost sweet, but the heat hit quickly. It was a medium heat with a full-bodied chili flavor. I liked it so much, I plan to use the fruits from that plant in my next batch of chili. This pepper’s papa had some flavah.


Finally, I tried the long, thin fruits that look like Thai chili peppers.

My pepperoncini shaped like a Thai chili pepper

My pepperoncini shaped like a Thai chili pepper

Thai chili peppers ~ photo credit: http://www.clovegarden.com

Once again, my pepper has the distinctive color of a pepperoncini but with the elongated, pointy shape of a Thai chili. I cut the pepper and removed the seeds, figuring it might be a little hot (based on the shape). I took a bite and tasted pepperoncini…with a delayed heat that hit my mouth and esophagus with intensity! It was HOT! No chili flavor. In fact, little flavor at all. Just a run-for-the-bread-and-stuff-into-my-mouth kind of heat! It took almost fifteen minutes for my mouth to stop burning. Who’s your daddy? Some hot papa, that’s for sure! I think these should be dried and used as a spice.

Well, six plants from one seed packet are giving me four different flavors of pepper that I can use fresh and for pickling, chili/cooking, and drying for spice. Mama pepperoncini may not have been discriminating when it came to accepting pollen, but I’m certainly enjoying the DNA of her dalliances.


Do you have any surprise fruits in your garden?



2 comments on “Puzzling Pepper Pollination

    • No, this was one package of pepperoncini seeds. They were supposed to be all the same – pure pepperoncini. Obviously, the company didn’t realize what happened and I got the DNA smorgasboard. LOL

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