Capsicum is the scientific name for the species of plant commonly referred to as "peppers", which are grown in hundreds of varieties and more are being refined and hybridized each year. Peppers are a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and common varieties include: C. pubescens, C. annuum, C. frutescens and C. chinense. The hottest of the capsicum belong to the C. chinense group.
C. pubescens: Peppers from Mountainous Areas
Capsicum pubescens is typically grown in high mountain areas of tropical countries. It has a very long growing season and is therefore, suitable for growing in the Andes mountains, but is not conducive to being grown in North America. This variety of pepper has a pod that grows to approximately 3 inches long and 2 to 2.5 inches wide. The peppers are commonly pear shaped with very thick skin and a hot flavor. The plants are usually bushy with large, hairy leaves. Common names for this variety include Rocoto, Chile Manzano, Chile Caballo and Chile Peron.
C. annuum: Grown in the United States and Europe
Capsicum annuum is the most common of the capsicum varieties and is grown widely throughout the U.S. and Europe. The variety is named "annuum" because of the short lifespan of the plant, lasting only one growing season. This pepper is grown in several cultivars ranging from the very sweet bell pepper to the very hot, jalapeno pepper. Annuum peppers range in color from green to red, and several cultivars complete the cycle by turning all three colors at some point in their development.
C. frutescens: Cayenne Powder
Tabasco is the only Capsicum frutescens grown commercially in the United States. Also, called cayenne, this pepper produces a small berry that matures to a red color. The smaller the berry, the hotter the pepper.
These peppers are dried and ground to make cayenne powder, which is also called red pepper powder. This pepper contains high amounts of vitamin C and as reported by Purdue University, in many cultures, such as West Indian, Asian, Creole and Indonesian, it has been claimed that there are medicinal effects of cayenne including aphrodisiac, diaphoretic, expectorant, neural stimulant, topical vasodilator and many more.
C. chinense: Habanero
Habanero is one of only a few Capsicum chinense varieties grown. C.chinense varieties originated in South America and are considered to be the hottest variety of pepper, with many habanero cultivars registering an average of 300,000 Scoville Heat Units, according to Dr. T. Ombrello of the Union County College Biology Department. In comparison, Jalapenos register between 2,000 and 9,500 Scoville Heat Units.
Habanero peppers are small sphere-shaped pods with a pointed end and come in cultivars that mature as green, yellow or red. Habaneros can take up to 30 days to germinate and take about 50 more days to grow to a size that will allow them to be transplanted. After transplanting, they begin to bear matured fruit in 75 to 120 days. These peppers are mostly grown in Mexico and the Caribbean where the climate is warm and moist.