As they relate to chili peppers, the terms genus and species are used to classify plants according to their characteristics. Whether you are an enthusiastic lover of hot peppers or a curious cook, it is a good idea to have an understanding of the science behind this seasoning. We cover it all in another PepperScale Showdown.
What is a genus?
A simple definition of the term genus is that it refers to the collective or generic name for a group of plants. Genus is just one of the ranks in the hierarchy of classification, which means that there are other categories above and below it. The genus of chili peppers is Capsicum and when written, it starts with an uppercase letter. The plural form of genus is genera and multiple genera can be grouped into a family. Family names usually end with the letters ceae. Plants in the same family will have common characteristics much like plants in the same genus.
The Capsicum name comes from one of two sources: the Latin word capsa, which means box and from which we get words like capsule. It may come from the way that the pepper forms a pod that encloses its seeds. Another possible source is the Greek word kapto, which means to bite.
What is a species?
Species refers to the specific name for a plant and differentiates organisms within a particular genus. Usually, a species has different characteristics from other members of a genus and these characteristics are retained through successive generations. Usually, different species will be unable to interbreed but this is not consistent enough to be a reliable criterion. In many cases, it is left up to botanists to determine whether a plant group has enough different characteristics from others in its genus to merit classification as a species.
Sub-categories within species are called subspecies. The species part of a plant’s Latin name is written starting with a lowercase letter.
A plant’s species name is usually an adjective that describes specific properties that a plant group is perceived to have. The species names that are applied to different groups of chili peppers include the following.
Chili pepper species list
Capsicum annuum: Annual
Capsicum annuum was given the name annual, which means a plant with a year-long life-cycle. This name was applied despite the fact that plants in this group are not annuals. Examples of Capsicum annuum include cayenne, Anaheim, and jalapeño peppers. Learn more about Capsicum annuum here.
Capsicum chinense: From China
The Capsicum chinense species has its origins in Central America like every other chili pepper despite its name. It was given its Chinese classification in error. Capsicum chinense includes the habanero and ghost pepper, along with several more of the world’s hottest peppers. Learn more about Capsicum chinense here.
Capsicum baccatum: Berry-like
Capsicum baccatum peppers have an appearance that makes them somewhat closer to berries than other chili peppers. They are smaller and have a squat shape. Examples of Capsicum baccatum include aji amarillo and lemon drop peppers. Learn more about Capsicum baccatum here.
Capsicum frutescens: Shrub or shrub-like
Capsicum frutescens plants have a shrub-like appearance in that they are short plants that are ideal for container gardening. The peppers are often brightly colored when ripened, which makes them popular for use as ornamental peppers. Capsicum frutescens examples include tabasco and African birdseye peppers. Learn more about Capsicum frutescens here.
Capsicum pubescens: Hairy
The leaves on Capsicum pubescens plants are hairy, which is one of the ways to distinguish them from other Capsicum plants. These peppers are known for their density and juiciness which makes them completely unique when compared to other peppers. Capsicum pubescens peppers include rocoto longo, peron, and canario peppers. Learn more about Capsicum pubescens here.