Have you seen this image floating around the internet claiming that one can determine the sex of a bell pepper by the number of bumps on the bottom? Whoever posted the original image* claimed that those peppers that had four lobes were “female”, while those with only three lobes were “male”. They expounded on their theory by explaining that “…female peppers are full of seeds, but sweeter and better for eating raw and the males are better for cooking.” Is this true or just a mammoth hoax to burn away your precious time trying to find out?
I first saw this image last year, when it was posted on a local Facebook gardening group. I added my two cents to the comments and promptly forgot all about it. Then I saw it again on someone’s timeline, then again elsewhere. In the last couple of months, I have received quite a few queries from readers, gardeners, and budding seed-savers asking which sex of pepper they should save seed from.
The short answer is that this bit of trot is absolutely false and you should ignore it entirely and continue treating all peppers the same way you always have, whether it be for growing, consuming, or seed saving.
The long answer is, uh, long – but it’s also much more interesting.
For starters, all peppers – hot or sweet, bell or chili – belong to the Nightshade family whose Latin botanical name is Solanaceae (pronounced so-lan-AY-see-ee or sometimes so-lan-AY-see-eye). In addition to peppers, this family includes garden tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes.
All peppers – indeed, all Nightshade family members – have what are called “perfect” flowers. Perfect flowers are “perfect” because each individual flower contains both male and female sexual reproductive organs (stamens and pistils).
Stand back, folks! Pepper flowers are bisexual (or what botanists like to call hermaphroditic).
Here’s the rub. You see, many plants actually do have individual male and female flowers – some have only one gender of flower and others have both.
So within the complex scope of plant reproduction, it is absolutely possible for certain plants to produce fruits of a specific gender (usually female). But not the pepper.
And if the bell peppers shown in the leading image are actually “male” and “female”, then what gender would this bell pepper - picked from my very own garden - be?
The vegetables we know as peppers – in this case, bell peppers – are the fruits of Capsicum annuum. The fruits contain ovaries, which in turn produce seed. And each individual pepper is produced through the self-fertilization of a flower that is both male and female.
Each individual pepper contains one or more chambers (locules) and a central placenta (the white pithy part of the pepper) upon which seeds are born. The number of chambers a pepper has is purely genetic and has no impact on saving seeds, sweetness of flesh, or number of seeds produced.
Now that you know the fascinating details of how bell peppers produce seed, you are in a unique position to help others through this troubling bell pepper sex scandal and stop botanical hackers before they strike. Oh, and you’re going to eat tons of great bell peppers, too!
If you would like to delve deeper into the fascinating world of plant reproductive morphology, check out this very detailed Wikipedia page.
If you want to learn more about how to save seeds from peppers in your own garden, check out Seed Saving Time: Peppers.
- Saving Seeds- Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid
- Saving Seed Begins in Spring!
- Avoid GMO’s – Save Your Own Seed
* The header image was copyrighted by produceplanet.blogspot.com, which has since been deleted (and I bet I know why!)
© 2013 Jill Henderson
Whether you’re a weekend gardener, homesteader, or serious survivalist, saving seeds is a money saving skill that every green-thumb should to have. An excellent resource for beginners and experienced gardeners alike, The Garden Seed Saving Guide takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving seeds. If you want to save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid genetically modified food crops, The Garden Seed Saving Guide is for you. Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.