1. Family: Solanaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Capsicum L.
      1. Capsicum annuum L.

        A bewildering variety of colourful and spicy fruits make Capsicum peppers instantly recognisable to both gardeners and chefs. Originally from South and Central America, their popularity continues to grow across the world due to their ease of cultivation, frequently sharp taste and attractive appearance.


    Solanaceae, H. heine. Flora of West Tropical Africa 2. 1963

    Stout herb 2-5 ft. high, much branched, angular, glabrous stems
    Flowers white or greenish
    Fruits red

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    This species includes a wide variety of peppers, including chilli peppers used in curries and sweet bell peppers used in salads.

    A bewildering variety of colourful and spicy fruits make Capsicum peppers instantly recognisable to both gardeners and chefs. Originally from South and Central America, their popularity continues to grow across the world due to their ease of cultivation, frequently sharp taste and attractive appearance.

    There are more than 200 common names in use for this species. The most common include chilli pepper, paprika (sweet varieties); bell pepper, cayenne, halapenos, chitlepin (hot varieties); and Christmas peppers (ornamental). Capsicum annuum should not be confused with ’black pepper’, Piper nigrum, which belongs to a distantly related plant family (Piperaceae).

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Wild ancestors of Capsicum annuum evolved in Bolivia and southern Brazil, probably long before human habitation. Archaeological research estimates that they were first domesticated at least 6,100 years ago.

    Numerous varieties were known to the Aztecs in Mexico before the Spanish arrived. Christopher Columbus brought seeds to Europe, and Capsicum annuum began to be planted extensively in Portuguese colonies in Africa, India and Asia. It is now grown around the world, both commercially and domestically.


    An attractive, upright shrub usually less than 1 m tall, with small, white, pendent flowers and elongated, yellow, orange or red fruits (berries). It can be distinguished from other types of domesticated peppers by flowers that are solitary rather than in groups, and filaments (thread-like stalks supporting the anther) that are not purple.

    Capsicum annuum can be difficult to separate from the cultivated C. chinense (the hottest pepper) and C. frutescens (Tabasco pepper) and their morphological features can overlap. These three species share the same ancestral gene pool and are sometimes called the ‘annuum-chinense-frutescens complex’.

    The varieties and cultivars of Capsicum annuum are classified on the basis of their fruit shapes. There are so many different kinds (several thousand) that nobody knows exactly how many there are. More and more local variants are appearing in cultivation across the world because existing varieties cross-pollinate easily.

    Uses - fruits

    Capsicum fruits have been part of the human diet for at least 10,000 years. The fruits of non-pungent (sweet) varieties are eaten raw in salads or cooked as a vegetable. They are rich sources of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and vitamin A.

    Pungent types, including chillies, are used as a condiment or spice for seasoning. The dried fruits are ground to a powder (paprika) and used as an ingredient in curry powder. The pungency is mainly due to the presence of chemical compounds called capsaicinoids, which deter most mammals from eating the fruit. Birds, however, will eat them without harm (and indeed help to disperse the seeds).

    Uses - pepper extracts

    Pepper extracts are used to flavour ginger beer, and are used in pharmaceutical products for treating conditions such as athlete’s foot and arthritis. Maya Indians used pepper spray as a weapon against their enemies, and today some police forces around the world use it to control unruly individuals.

    Uses - decorations

    Ornamental varieties of Capsicum annuum (the fruits of which are also edible) are grown primarily for the decorative value of their fruit, often displaying fruits of four or five colours simultaneously on one plant. The popular ‘Christmas peppers’ were originally available at Christmas time and had green and red fruits.

    How hot is a ‘chilli’?

    In 1912, a pharmacist named Scoville developed an index for measuring the pungency of peppers. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) are still used today and measure by how much a chilli extract has to be diluted in sugar syrup before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of expert tasters.

    Sweet (or bell) peppers rank at 0 SHU, while New Mexico green chillies are mildly pungent at 1,500 SHU. The ‘hottest’ of the world’s chillies exceed 80,000 SHU, but even they are relatively mild compared to the hottest of them all (the ‘infinity chilli’), which registers over 1,000,000 SHU. Imagine that next time you have a curry!

    Millennium Seed Bank - Saving seeds

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

    There are two collections of Capsicum annuum seeds stored in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

    This species at Kew

    Capsicum annuum can be seen growing in Kew’s Temperate House (currently closed for restoration - due to open in 2018).

    Specimens of the fruits and seeds of Capsicum annuum are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building and are available to researchers by appointment.

    Bolivia, Brazil
    Tropical deciduous forest. Widely cultivated.
    Widespread; Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.

    Juice (of the fruit) can cause dermatitis; avoid contact with eyes.

    Food, flavouring, ornamental.



    Found In:

    Guatemala, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest

    Introduced Into:

    Alabama, Aldabra, Algeria, Andaman Is., Angola, Assam, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bismarck Archipelago, Borneo, Botswana, Brazil North, Brazil Northeast, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canary Is., Cape Verde, Cayman Is., Central African Repu, Chad, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Is., Cuba, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Himalaya, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Gabon, Galápagos, Gambia, Ghana, Gilbert Is., Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf of Guinea Is., Haiti, Honduras, India, Ivory Coast, Jawa, Kazan-retto, Kenya, Korea, Laos, Leeward Is., Madagascar, Madeira, Maldives, Mali, Marquesas, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, New Guinea, New South Wales, Nicobar Is., Niger, Nigeria, Northern Provinces, Northern Territory, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Queensland, Rodrigues, Réunion, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Society Is., Solomon Is., Somalia, Southwest Caribbean, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turks-Caicos Is., Uganda, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, West Himalaya, Windward Is., Zambia, Zimbabwe

    Common Names

    Chilli pepper

    Capsicum annuum L. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jun 1, 2006 Etuge, M. [5143], Cameroon K000339796
    Jan 1, 2005 Ekman, E.L. [2116], Haiti K000809082
    Jan 1, 2005 Jansen-Jacobs, M.J. [1811], Guyana K000809084
    Oct 1, 2004 Bardot-Vaucoulon, M. et al. [1257], Madagascar K000449277
    Oct 1, 2003 Pollard, B.J. [922], Cameroon K000212618
    Feb 1, 2002 Etuge, M. [1612], Cameroon K000109658
    Feb 1, 2002 Etuge, M. [1572], Cameroon K000109659
    Feb 1, 2002 Etuge, M. [1532], Cameroon K000109660
    Nov 1, 2001 Lugas, L. [2744], Indonesia K000592614
    Jan 1, 1994 Jansen-Jacobs, M.J. [3465], Guyana K000809085
    Jan 1, 1988 Zarucchi, J.L. [5478], Colombia K000809091
    Jul 2, 1985 Hutchison, P.C. [3541], Peru K000809095
    Sep 1, 1940 Stork, H.E. [9463], Peru K000809093
    Sep 1, 1940 Stork, H.E. [9462], Peru K000809094
    Schunke, J. [6554], Peru K000809092
    Habib, A.F. [2064], India K000592613
    Palmer, E. [137-140], Mexico K000063160
    Palmer, E. [135], Mexico K000063161
    Chazaro B., M. [540], Mexico K000063162
    Vázquez T., M. [611], Mexico K000063163

    First published in Sp. Pl.: 188 (1753)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 87: 559-902
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    • [12] (2011) Stapfia 95: 141-161
    • [13] Kral, R., Diamond, A.R., Ginzbarg, S.L., Hansen, C.J., Haynes, R.R., Keener, B.R., Lelong, M.G., Spaulding, D.D. & Woods, M. (2011) Annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Alabama . Botanical reseach institute of Texas
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    • [29] (2004) The plants of Mount Kinabalu 5: 1-609. Natural History Publications (Borneo)
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    • [32] (2002) Flora of Bangladesh 53: 1-48. Bangladesh National Herbarium, Dhaka
    • [33] (2001) Flora of Bhutan 2: 1-1675. Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
    • [34] (2000) Flore des Mascareignes 128: 1-41. IRD Éditions, MSIRI, RBG-Kew, Paris
    • [35] Dy Phon, P. (2000) Dictionnaire des plantes utilisées au Cambodge . chez l'auteur, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
    • [36] Press, J.R. et al. (2000) Annotated Checklist of the Flowering Plants of Nepal . Natural History Museum, London
    • [37] Aedo, C., Tellería, M.T. & Velayos, M. (eds.) (1999) Bases Documentales para la Flora de Guinea Ecuatorial; Plantas vascularis y hongos . CSIC, real jardín Botánico, Madrid
    • [39] Govaerts, R. (1999) World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne
    • [41] Wood, J.R.I. (1997) A handbook of the Yemen Flora . Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [44] (1994) Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (Plantes Vasculaires) 176: 1-146. Typographie Firmin-Didot et Cie., Paris
    • [46] Audru, J., Cesar, J. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1993) Les Plantes Vasculaires de la République de Djibouti. Flore Illustrée 2(2): 433-968. CIRAD, Départerment d'Elevage et de Médecine vétérinaire, Djibouti
    • [47] Smith, A.C. (1991) Flora Vitiensis Nova. A new flora for Fiji (Spermatophytes only) 5: 1-626. Pacific Tropical Botanical Garden, Lawai
    • [48] (1988) Research Bulletin Dodo Creek Research Station 7: 1-203
    • [49] Dassanayake (ed.) (1988) A Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon 6: 1-424. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. PVT. LTD., New Delhi, Calcutta
    • [50] (1987) Atoll Research Bulletin 295: 1-33
    • [51] Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986) Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali . Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux
    • [52] (1985) Flora of Pakistan 168: 1-61. Department of Botany, University of Karachi, Karachi
    • [53] Peekel, P.G. (1984) Flora of the Bismarck archipelago for naturalists . Office of Forests, Lae, Papua New Guinea
    • [56] Fosberg, F.R. & Renvoize, S.A. (1980) The Flora of Aldabra and neighbouring islands . Crown, London
    • [57] Davis, P.H. (ed.) (1978) Flora of Turkey and the East Aegean Islands 6: 1-825. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh
    • [58] Boulvert, Y. (1977) Catalogue de la Flore de Centrafrique 2(1): 1-85. ORSTROM, Bangui
    • [59] Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976) Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort
    • [62] Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1972) Flora Europaea 3: 1-370. Cambridge University Press
    • [63] Backer, C.A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R. C. (1965) Flora of Java 2: 1-641. N.V.P. Noordhoff, Groningen, The Netherlands
    • [66] (1954-1958) Flora of West Tropical Africa , ed. 2, 1: 1-828
    • [68] Merrill, E.D. (1923) An enumeration of Philippine flowering plants 3: 1-628. Bureau of Science, Manila


    • [7] (2012) Flora of Tropical East Africa Solanaceae: 1-239
    • [15] Aguilar-Melendez, A., Morrell, P. L., Roose, M. L. & Kim, Seung-Chul (2009). Genetic diversity and structure in semiwild and domesticated chiles ( Capsicum annuum; Solanaceae) from Mexico. American Journal of Botany 96: 1190-1202.
    • [16] DeWitt, D. & Bosland, P. W. (2009). The Complete Chile Pepper Book: a Gardener's Guide to Choosing, Growing, Preserving and Cooking. Timber Press, Portland.
    • [17] (2008) Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500
    • [18] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
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    • [40] Vaughan, J. G. & Geissler, C. A. (1999). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    • [42] DeWitt, D. & Bosland, P.W. (1996). Peppers of the World: an Identification Guide. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley.
    • [43] (1994) Brenesia 41-42: 73-80
    • [45] (1993) Sommerfeltia 17: 1-295
    • [54] (1982) Flora of Australia 29: 1-208. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra
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    • [65] (1957) Atoll Research Bulletin 58: 1-37
    • [67] (1948) Annales de l'Institut Botanico-Geologique de Marseille , VI, 5-6: 1-56
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