A pepper that looks almost too good to eat

Hot pepper plants (Capsicum annuum cvs.) are one of my passions. They are not only one of the world’s healthiest vegetables (chock-full of beta-carotene and vitamin C and known for their pain-relieving properties) but also very ornamental in a mixed border or patio container. Some of my past favorites have been ‘Trifetti’ for its variegated leaves, and ‘Medusa’ and ‘Nosegay’ for their multicolored, miniature fruit. This year, laurels go to the exciting, miniature-fruiting cultivar ‘Black Pearl’.

A 2006 All-America Selections winner, ‘Black Pearl’ boasts the most dramatically deep purple-black leaves and fruit imaginable. The vigorous, bushy plants grow to 18 inches tall and almost as wide. In a border, ‘Black Pearl’ makes an outstanding visual foil for silver-foliage plants, like artemisias (Artemisia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina and cvs., Zones 4–8), and verbascums (Verbascum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9). Variegated-foliage plants, like some of the dappled and spotted heucheras (Heuchera spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) and heucherellas (X Heucherella cvs. Zones 3–8), are also exemplary companions in pots.

Like all peppers, ‘Black Pearl’ needs plenty of sun and warm temperatures for optimal growth. Start seed indoors two to three weeks before your last frost date. Plants are ready to go outdoors when the soil temperature reaches 60°F. The leaves will start out green but will turn black as soon as they hit full sun. Clearly heat tolerant, ‘Black Pearl’ requires minimal water and fertilization during the season. Similar to other hot peppers, it comes with its own built-in pest-deterrent system.

In midseason, ‘Black Pearl’ begins to display lilac-hued blossoms, which are followed by the fruit. The fruit turns from black to a rich, glossy crimson as it ripens, lending an additional visual bonus that continues until frost. The fruit, while small, packs an extremely hot punch, so employ them with care in the kitchen. All in all, ‘Black Pearl’ is a bona fide garden stunner that is as delicious to the eye as it is to the palate.

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