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Open Pollinated Hot Pepper Plants

Heirloom hot pepper plants are also open-pollinated hot peppers, meaning that distinct varieties bloom and set viable seed that "comes true" to the variety when planted, producing plants with the expected characteristics. Gardeners can collect the seed and pass it along to future generations. Hybrid hot peppers -- created by crossing two or more different pepper varieties -- may produce no seed, non-viable seed or viable seed with unpredictable characteristics.
  1. Anaheim

    • Medium-thick, tapered and pungent, Anaheim pepper pods grow to 6 inches or longer, deep green in color, but turning red at maturity. Plants are very productive, producing until frost. Anaheim peppers are mild among the hotties, often used for chiles rellenos. A similar pepper but half the length is the Fresno chili, resistant to tobacco mosaic virus.


    • Known as "poblano" when eaten fresh and "ancho" when dried, these peppers grow to 4 or 5 inches long and are irregular heart- or wedge-shaped. Peppers are slightly hot and sweet-mild like Anaheims, quite tasty when roasted or stuffed -- and start out almost black, maturing to mahogany red.


    • Available in both thick and thin forms -- the thin form produces much longer -- these 6-inch pungent peppers are deep red when mature and very hot, excellent in homemade chili and hot salsa and sauces. Cayenne peppers are easy to dry, and can also be pickled or canned. A similar-looking heirloom pepper, but usually not nearly as hot, is the Small Red Chili, also known as Finger Cayenne and Long Red Chili.


    • Native to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and about 200 times hotter than the jalapeno pepper -- ouch! -- very small, light green and thin-walled Habanero peppers turn orangey-red when ripe. Hotter still is the Habanero Red, a favorite Caribbean hot pepper. Plants are very disease resistant. The only other heirloom pepper in the same heat class is the Scotch Bonnet.

    Hungarian Yellow Wax

    • The best hot pepper for colder climates because of its adaptability, 5- to 8-inch Hungarian Yellow Wax peppers mature like the sunset -- from shades of yellow to orange and red. Heat increases with each color change, so with some experience you can easily "see" how hot each pepper will be.


    • Hot enough for many people, these peppers seem mild compared to Habaneros. The 3-inch peppers of Jalapeno plants start out deep green but are bright red by the time they're ready to be chopped up for fresh salsa. Because peppers are very thick walled, they are not good for drying. Jalapenos come in both early and mid-season varieties, the early type best suited to cooler climates.


    • These narrow peppers are 2 to 4 inches and long and glossy green, maturing to bright red. Plants are very prolific, producing up to 50 peppers at once and keeping it up all season long. The distinctive Serrano flavor has been described as "clean with a bite," with no after-burn. Roast peppers without peeling to add deep flavor to guacamole, sauces and other dishes.