Ornamental peppers are pretty plants with distinctive, colorful peppers. They come in such unique shapes and so many stunning colors that they’re primarily grown for their looks.
But, their pepper fruits are edible (and can be quite spicy!)
These are the perfect plants to grow for any gardener who wants to add vibrancy and heat to their landscape (and occasionally, their meals).
Best of all, they’re small, compact plants that usually don’t grow more than 2 feet tall, so ornamental peppers can also be grown indoors, in containers or small patios.
Why Grow Ornamental Peppers
Apartment gardening, especially indoors, can be really limiting, so I needed small, compact plants. Most hot pepper plants don’t get too large, but the smallest and most compact varieties of hot peppers (under 2 to 3 feet tall) tend to be ornamental varieties.
I knew obviously that ornamental peppers were considered showstoppers, but I didn’t initially realize that ornamental hot peppers are slightly different from traditional hot peppers.
And I had no idea that ornamental peppers could also encompass sweet bell pepper types.
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Unique Ornamental Peppers
Ornamental pepper plants still produce fruit, but the peppers tend to be small and showy, as opposed to flavorful. If you’re looking for depth, flavor or ultra-hot spice, you might be disappointed.
Still, I think ornamental pepper plants are worth growing!
There are so many fun varieties – some have splashy inverted fruits that grow upwards to the sky, others have bold variegated leaves. Some ornamental peppers have striped flesh, while others create a colorful rainbow pattern.
Some ornamental peppers grow so small they look like miniature dwarf versions of chili peppers or bell peppers. In fact, you can even shape some ornamental pepper plants to form bonsai trees!
No matter what you grow, these are plants that make a statement.
Here are a some of the best ornamental pepper varieties. Some I’ve grown and some are on my list to try!
Ornamental Pepper Varieties
Ornamental pepper plants usually have very unique looking fruit, distinctive foliage or rainbow like colors. If you want an edible landscape plant that still produces peppers hot enough to spice up your cooking, you should grow some of these.
Shop seeds: Etsy
I have a soft spot for Jigsaw peppers because they’re the first hot pepper I ever tried to grow.
And I recommend them, because not only are they beautiful to look at, they’re one of the easiest pepper varieties! I grew these entirely indoors, from start to finish, in my Aerogardens.
Jigsaws have variegated leaves in a colorful array of silver, pastel green and dark forest green. Once the flowers form, you’ll see tons of vibrant purple buds all over the plant.
The fruits go through a couple color transformations too, from dark green to deep purple and eventually fiery red. So as you grow this, you’ll always have a conversation piece!
I always had people asking me what kind of plant they were.
Personally, I didn’t find them too spicy. They have a similar heat profile to Thai bird’s eye chilis, so I use them in stir fries and hot sauces.
Read more: How to Grow Jigsaw Peppers
Chinese 5 Color Peppers
If you’ve ever wanted an edible Christmas tree, you’ve got to grow these.
Chinese ornamental peppers are another easy variety to grow indoors or in small spaces. The pepper plant has glossy, rounded dark green leaves with bright purple buds.
The peppers themselves go through a showy rainbow color transformation!
Fruits go from purple to cream to yellow, orange and finally red. The color change is quite slow going, so you end up with a small pepper plant covered in all different colors.
The fruits themselves are plump and grow upright, so it really looks like a plant covered in Christmas tree lights.
Like most ornamental pepper varieties, these add some zing and spice.
Read more: How to Grow Chinese 5 Color Peppers
Black Pearl Peppers
My favorite pepper varieties are the dark foliage types.
If you want an exotic, bold looking pepper plant, try Black Pearl peppers. These have jet black leaves that immediately stand out in a sea of garden green.
The Black Pearl gets its distinctive color from anthocyanins, a compound that contains purple pigments and is a healthy source of antioxidants.
There are lots of fruits and vegetables containing anthocyanin, like eggplants, blackberries, blueberries and mizuna. While peppers are classified as nightshades (and belong to the same family as eggplants and tomatoes), it’s rare to see peppers with anthocyanins!
The fruit from the Black Pearl pepper has an almost black shade and it grows in fun, juicy clusters. They look like dark juicy blueberries!
But obviously taste much different, ha.
When mature, the fruits ripen to a deep red and taste surprisingly sweet and spicy.
Fish peppers are a great ornamental pepper variety because they’re showy and pretty, and can be dried to create spicy pepper flakes similar to cayenne.
Unlike a cayenne pepper plant, which can grow pretty large, fish peppers are compact and cute! They top out at just 2 feet tall when mature and have gorgeous green leaves speckled with white.
The peppers also have a fun stripe pattern!
They start off green and white and then slowly mature into fire-y shades of orange, brown and red.
This variety was nearly lost due to a lack of cultivation. Luckily seeds were saved and you can use fish peppers in your garden today to create a vibrant pattern of heat in your garden.
Candy Cane Sweet Pepper
If you don’t like hot peppers, you might think there’s no ornamental pepper out there worth growing.
With the Candy Cane pepper, that won’t happen!
This is a sweet pepper variety with non-spicy fruits. The plant is compact with really pretty variegated foliage.
It has green leaves striped with streaks of white and grows densely, like a nice little shrub. But the leaves aren’t the only think that’s striped!
Candy Cane peppers are highly productive and can grow loads of compact bell peppers!
The sweet peppers start out dark green and slowly change colors in a stripe-y pattern until they reach orange red and mature into deep chocolate. The stripe patterns are so distinctive.
I can see why they’re named candy cane, but they look much more interesting than your average Christmas tree style pepper.
I think these are so stunning and they’re on my list to grow next year.
Purple Flash Pepper
If you love purple, this is the plant for you.
Purple flash peppers are a bright bush of purple – from their stems to their leaves, flowers and fruits.
The peppers themselves are pretty tiny, but they do pack a punch of heat! Purple flash peppers start off deep purple, then mature to bright red.
These tend to grow in a sprawling mass of bush, but you can prune them to achieve a prettier shape. The small round fruits look like tart little berries in a sea of purple.
It’s a bit of an ominous look.. Plant these if you want people to be freaked out by your garden, ha.
The only trouble is finding some seeds!
I’ve only been able to see purple flash pepper seeds on occasion from hobby gardeners on Etsy but hopefully more seed companies will start carrying these unique dark peppers.
Bolivian Rainbow Pepper
The Bolivian Rainbow pepper looks very similar to the Chinese 5 color pepper.
In fact, they’re so similar I wonder if they’re related plants..
The Bolivian Rainbow is a compact ornamental with colorful peppers. Fruits turn 5 different shades of color so that a full grown Bolivian Rainbow looks like it possesses a rainbow: cream, purple, yellow, orange and red.
The peppers themselves grow upright in an inverse teardrop shape. The small, fat fruits look like Christmas tree lights!
Even the colors of both pepper plants are the same 5 colors! But, the Chinese 5 color starts purple and turns cream, whereas the Bolivian Rainbow does the reverse.
I haven’t grown (or tasted) the Bolivian Rainbow peppers personally, but they’re said to contain an excellent level of spiciness.
At roughly 10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units, these are mini peppers that pack a punch! Use the teardrop shaped fruits to spice up any salsas, soups or stir fries.
NuMex Twilight Pepper
The NuMex Twilight is another colorful ornamental.
Bred specifically for dry climates (I wonder if they originated in New Mexico, going by the name), these decorative peppers create fiery rainbows of heat.
The fruits start bright purple, then change to yellow, orange and finally red. They also grow upright, similar to Thai bird’s eye chilis and form packed, punchy clusters of small cone shaped fruit.
If you like a colorful hedge or container, plant these!
They also have a nice mild heat level, around 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. Perfect if you don’t like overly spicy food!
Want just a singular pop of color in your garden?
Then plant the Tangerine Dream – an ornamental with punchy orange colored fruits.
This ornamental pepper is a compact, container friendly variety.
The plants are bushy and productive, with tons of 3 inch long peppers all over. Each chili is a vivid orange red color, with medium thick flesh and a slight citrus flavor. The peppers are relatively mild and sweet too!
Use them in salsas, stir frys or dehydrate and roast them for their flakes.
Looking for an ornamental pepper with monstrously good looks?
Then check out the Medusa pepper!
This eclectic ornamental pepper has fun colorful chilis in yellow, orange and red. The wild bushy shape and twisty, conical chilis give it the look of Medusa (the Greek monster with venomous snakes instead of hair).
Despite the fiery colored fruits, this is a sweet pepper variety!
The little upright chilis have almost no heat, with just 0 to 1,000 Scoville heat units. So despite its scary looks, the Medusa pepper is a family friendly ornamental variety.
Plant this compact dwarf pepper in containers, bushes or along a walkway. Each plant is super compact and doesn’t grow taller than 12 inches.
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