This is Leo (middle). He’s a weiner dog that likes to eat my dad’s pepper plants. I wasn’t there when Leo first tried my dad’s peppers, but my sister said Dad was even angrier than the time we flooded the house ( a story for another time). My dad, the Pepper Lover, loves his peppers (belonging to the genus, Capsium). He likes them really hot but still enjoyable enough to eat. Usually he buys imported peppers from India or Mexico because he can never find any ones here in the US that are hot enough.
Pepper Lover has been growing his own peppers ever since 2009. This changed happened when he returned home from visiting his family in Vietnam. He had a transfer flight in Seoul, Korea and decided to get some food at a restaurant. My dad saw these two plants they had on their counter; they had purple, white, orange, and red peppers in the shapes of hearts and some flowers growing at the top. He thought they were so beautiful. Being a Pepper Lover, he asked the waitress if those peppers were hot and spicy, and if they were, could he try one. He ate the pepper with his meal, became immediately addicted, and asked the owner of the restaurant if he could have some peppers to take home with him.
Bringing two peppers home, my dad spent days researching how to preserve the seeds since because was December. He found out that as long as he dried out the seeds well and kept them somewhere dark, he could keep his beloved pepper seeds forever. So he put his pepper seeds on top of our oven exhaust hood and almost forgot about them.
Scientifically, the reason why my dad could preserve seeds is because of seed dormancy. This is a state where a seed can go into hibernation mode, preserving its energy. Once the seed senses an optimal environment to grow in (enough moisture, light, and warmth) it will germinate and grow. Since my dad did not want the seeds to start growing, he dried them out (removal of moisture) and put them somewhere dark (removal of light).
Around the end of January, while we were cleaning the kitchen, my sisters and I found this bundle wrapped in multiple layers of paper towels, newspapers, and black construction paper. My dad happened to be passing by, saw it and started dancing gleefully because he had forgotten where he put the seeds. He shouted “MY PEPPERS!” and drove off to buy potting soil and pots for his future plants. He moved a giant table and put it in front of a door that received the most sunlight. Before planting the seeds, he put them in a wet paper towel for a couple of days to encourage them to wake up from hibernation.
For two weeks, the Pepper Lover watered the seeds and coaxed them to germinate. When he finally saw the first couple of buds he shouted again, “MY PEPPERS!”. When the first leaves developed, they were purple in color. My dad was so surprised and thought he had the wrong plants or maybe there was something off with the soil. His worries were gone in a few weeks as the plants matured and more of the leaves turned green. Anthocyanin is the cause for this purple pigmentation in the leaves. Kind of acting like sunblock, young seedlings and leaves often are more purple in color than green to prevent sun damage when they are growing.
From the Pepper Lover’s general knowledge of peppers, he assumed it would take 4-5 months for the plant to start flowering and producing fruit (the peppers). So he starts his seeds indoors around January or February and in May, around the week of Mother’s Day he plants them in pots and takes them outside (he always jokes that’s how he remembers to get our mom something).
When the first pepper grew, it was purple and heart shaped. Curious, PepperLover ate it and said it tasted like cucumbers. He waited a couple days for the purple pepper to turn colors and it changed to white! This is the stage when the peppers start to smell fragrant and spicy, but to him they were very mild in spiciness. When the peppers turned yellow, my dad said it was becoming more spicy but not nearly as spicy as the first one he ate in Korea. After waiting for a couple of weeks since the first pepper appeared, the peppers turned red. When he bit into it, he shouted “MY PEPPERS!”. I think I saw him tear up a bit.
My dad originally grew pepper plants for the beauty and deliciousness of the fruit but now he’s starting to grow even more peppers for his customers and family members, as well as encouraging them to grow their own as well. He has customers every year who ask for seeds, gush to him how amazing the peppers are, which makes him blush and smile. Although pepper plants aren’t as beautiful as roses or as exotic like dragon fruits, they have their own place in my dad’s garden. My dad’s first real gardening experience was his pepper plants! So while he didn’t have a Ph.D in plant biology, he was able to grow what he loves. While he was overjoyed to finally eat his peppers, I think it was more meaningful to share his love of peppers, with others.
Brittany is 20 years old (aging fast) and is currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh. When not in school, she primarily lives with her family in Illinois.