The chile pequin is a pepper native to the deserts of South Texas and northern Mexico. This little plant, known as “the mother of all peppers,” has a big history. Peppers were unknown outside North and South America until Cortez met the Aztecs in 1519. The Conquistadors fell in love with the chile pequin peppers served in Aztec cuisine. Here are some tips for growing chile pequin in the Coastal Bend.
The chile pequin is also known as the “Texas bird pepper.” Birds can’t taste capsaicin, so the heat of peppers doesn’t bother them, making birds the only pest to really bother this hardy, drought-tolerant plant.
Look for chile pequin plants at a local nursery or order seeds online. You may also purchase a package of dried chile pequin peppers and save the seeds—but the best seed source is a neighbor with a nice chile pequin plant.
Growing Up: Height, 12” to 24”. Spacing, 18”. Plants die in a freeze but regrow from the roots. They require a minimum of four to six hours of direct sun and lots of afternoon shade. Aim for loose, well-drained soil, and fertilize each spring with four cups of organic compost and two cups each of pastured poultry manure and homemade wood ash. Mulch heavily with native leaves and water until established. These plants are highly drought-tolerant. Companion plant with Mexican mint marigold, basil or nasturtiums.
Potting and Harvesting: Chile pequin makes an ideal potted plant. Use a three-gallon or larger terra cotta pot and mix potting soil half-and-half with soil from your backyard, and fertilize as previously mentioned. Protect from the afternoon sun and water often during summer months. Mature peppers are small and round and should be harvested when green or left on the bush to turn red. Chile pequin is hotter than a jalapeno, but milder than a habanero. Prepare or preserve them like any other pepper.
Fun Facts: Chile pequin seeds have a tough seed coat, so they can take weeks to germinate in the soil. When a bird eats a chile pequin seed, the seed coat is removed during digestion and deposited on the ground, ready to germinate. You can duplicate this process by soaking chile pequin seeds in a solution of one cup water and one teaspoon saltpeter (potassium nitrate) for four hours. No saltpeter on hand? Use chamomile tea.