Ornamental chilies spice up holidays as colorful gifts

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Watch out, poinsettia growers. With their vibrant colors and spicy edible peppers, small chili plants developed by a New Mexico researcher are turning up the heat on traditional holiday plants in greenhouses and nurseries.

The ornamental chili plants go far beyond the green and red of the state’s signature crop.

Paul Bosland, professor of horticulture and director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, breeds ornamental chilies with holiday-specific colors.

Bosland’s peppers turn from orange to black for Halloween, yellow to orange for Thanksgiving and red to white for Valentine’s Day.

There’s a long history of chili plants being given as holiday gifts in the Southwest, he said.

“In the 1800s and even up to the 1920s, people would give chili plants as a Christmas plant because [the peppers] would have the red and green colors,” he said.

Now, the holiday plant is usually a poinsettia, and ornamental chili was forgotten,” Bosland said.

“New Mexico is famous for its green chili, red chili, cayenne and jalapenos, so why not add ornamental chili to the list?”

The plants can be used in the same manner as traditional holiday plants, either placed around the house or as a table centerpiece.

After the holiday, they can be planted outdoors in the spring. This multi-functional use makes the peppers even more attractive to potential buyers.

The majority of Bosland’s research is devoted to developing chili for disease resistance and the color-extraction industry.