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How To Identify Different Types Of Pepper Plants

Do you have a pepper plant, but aren’t sure what type it is? We’ve been there before, forgetting to label a plant, or losing the seed packet. It happens.

There are many types of pepper plants. From small, dwarf varieties, to the massive, super-hot varieties, the diversity is amazing.

Looking for more pictures? Browse the different pepper varieties (w/pictures) we have reviewed here.

Identifying an exact pepper cultivar is basically impossible without knowing the seed source. However, honing in on the species can help narrow it down. Thankfully, there are some distinguishing traits between the different pepper species to help you figure out what type of plant you have.

Young Peppers with Straw mulch 2
Various pepper plants in a garden

Look At The Flowers

Pepper flowers vary widely from one variety to the next. They can be large, small, have 6 or more petals, or as few as 4, be purple, or white. However, there are a few standout characteristics that may help narrow down the pepper plant.

  • Purple flowers are most likely C. annuum or C. pubescens. The annuum species sort of has it all. Purple flowers, white flowers, variegated leaves, dark foliage, big pods, small chilies, and more. If the flowers on your pepper plant are purple, it is probably a C. annuum type, but could also be the rarer C. pubescens.
  • Flowers with yellow spots are C. baccatum. This is perhaps the most obvious distinguishing trait in pepper flowers. C. baccatum flowers always have a white corolla with pale green or yellow spots.

While a unique flower can definitely help narrow things down, many pepper flowers are just ordinary and white. In this case you can turn to other parts of the plant to help identify the type of pepper.


Compare The Leaves

If the flowers on your plant are plain white (most varieties are), then you’ll have to inspect the foliage next. Different species have leaves that can easily be distinguished.

Different pepper leaves - From left: Annuum, baccatum, chinense, pubescens
Pepper leaves compared side-by-side. From left: C. annuum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. pubescens.

C. annuum leaves

The C. annuum species is likely the most popular and diverse in the world. While the leaf size can vary widely from tiny to very large, the shape and texture is usually fairly consistent. Look for slender, flat leaves with fewer small veins.

Unripe KS Khang Starr White Thai pepper plant
C. annuum foliage and chilies

C. baccatum leaves

The C. baccatum leaves are not very distinguished, and can vary from slender to broad. However, they are typically flat, with more abundant small veins than C. annuum types.

Aji Amarillo plant leaves closeup
Broad aji amarillo (C. baccatum) leaves

C. chinense leaves

It is most likely your plant comes from either the C. annuum or C. chinense species. Thankfully, these two are easy to tell apart just by the foliage. C. chinense plants will have large, broad leaves that grow very bushy from a young age. The leaves also have a “mottled” look, with many more bumps along the surface.

Aji dulce aji cachucha plant foliage
Typical C. chinense foliage

C. pubescens leaves

If you happen to have a C. pubescens (rocoto) type pepper plant, the leaves will be easy to identify. After all, the species got its name from the “pubescent” or hairy appearance of the foliage. Look for furry leaves, stems, and flower stems on all C. pubescens types!

Orange locoto rocoto plant closeup (C. pubescens)
Young C. pubescens plant folaige – notice the small “hairs”

If your plant has dark foliage, that can be another indicator of the species. C. annuum and C. chinense plants are known to have dark foliage varieties. C. pubescens and C. baccatum leaves are always green. C. pubescens may have purpling along veins.

Foliage can only take you so far in terms of identification. The only step left is to wait for a pepper to form on the plant. Even with a ripe fruit, identification of a specific cultivar is basically impossible. However, you can make an educated guess based on several characteristics.


Try The Fruits!

It may take more time, but you will probably need to allow your plants to fruit to identify the most likely pepper type. There are thousands of different cultivars, so the only way to know for sure is to know where the seeds came from.

Appearance and Growth Habit

There are countless shapes and sizes of different peppers. From the blocky bell pepper, to the long and slender cayennes, to the berry-like aji charapita. Some pods have wrinkly skin (many C. chinense types), while others are perfectly smooth.

While we don’t have an exhaustive list of all the pepper types, this book has helped us identify some mystery pepper plants in the past!

Another distinguishing factor is the growth habit. Some plants grow pods upwards, where the fruits point straight up to the sky. This is fairly common in both C. annuum and C. frutescens, but uncommon in other species.

Santaka pepper plant with ripe peppers
Santaka peppers (C. annuum) growing upwards

Flavor, Aroma, and Heat

One of the best methods of identifying pepper plant types is to smell and taste the fruits. Each species has its own unique flavor, and once you get used to it, you’ll easily know them apart!

  • C. annuum peppers often have a sweet, fresh, and vegetal flavor. Spicier, chili-types (such as cayennes or Thai peppers) can be described as smoky and dark, but rarely flowery.
  • C. chinense peppers can be some of the hottest in the world, so handle and taste with care! The flavors are also very distinguished from all other types, with a floral, sometimes fruity flavor. Some types can be extremely flowery, with some comparing the taste to potpourri. Next time you’re at the supermarket, get a habanero and a jalapeno to compare the smell and flavor.
  • C. baccatum peppers are fruity and bright, with most peppers having thick walls and a crunchy texture. Heat can range from mild to very hot.
  • C. pubescens peppers are usually medium spicy, while the peppers are fruity and softer in texture. The seeds of C. pubescens plants are also black, another unique trait of the species.
2020 Hot Pepper Harvest at Pepper Geek
Large pepper harvest with different varieties

I hope this article helps you to get better at identifying different pepper plants. However, always remember that world of peppers is vast, and no two varieties are exactly the same!

Calvin Thumbnail

Calvin

One of the original Pepper Geeks! When Calvin isn’t gardening or learning more about peppers and botany, he might be traveling new places or playing some music.

Torben

Wednesday 14th of September 2022

I have an odd one my wife got for me from Wal-Mart. It just says "Chilis - Hot - Patio". The plant has leaves resembling the C. annuum and bears 3 distinct fruits: a larger (~2-3") green, smooth pepper with some heat and a pleasant flavour; a smaller (~1") smooth, rounded red fruit with a small point on the end (like a Hershey's Kiss kind of shape), and what looks like the second kind but just wrinkly. The smooth red is hotter than the green, and the wrinkled red are pretty darned hot.

Having a heck of a time working this one out so if you have any thoughts I'm all ears :)

Scott S

Thursday 18th of August 2022

I bought a 6 pack of plants from a local nursery marked "tepin chile" but as the plants grew, I noticed that one of them was different from the others. It has slightly fuzzy leaves and very fuzzy stems, white flowers, downward oriented inch-long fruit that turns from green to red. The fruit actually looks nearly identical to the ones on the tepin, except the tepin pods grow upward.

peppergeek

Saturday 20th of August 2022

Always an oddball! That seems very cool though

Marianne

Thursday 11th of August 2022

I am trying to identify a pepper in my garden. (I cannot find the plastic marker; I know I planted it with the plant!!!) The peppers are light yellow, with smooth, firm, thick skin. They are kind of shaped like a jalapeno, but larger. They are hot. I have pictures. Thanks!

peppergeek

Thursday 11th of August 2022

Sounds like some type of hot wax chili pepper!