Bell pepper sex

Posted by Jadili Africa on Facebook, a report on sex differences in Bell peppers:

I never knew this! Flip the bell peppers over to check their gender. The ones with four bumps are female and those with three bumps are male. The female peppers are full of seeds, but sweeter and better for eating raw and the males are better for cooking.

With an illustration:

Though fascinating, the whole story looks preposterous.

Megan Stoddard on Helium, 10/29/10, debunks all parts of the story. There seems to be no evidence for a greater number of seeds or greater sweetness in four-bump peppers. And on pepper sex:

A page on eHow gives a detailed description of another putative difference. Three bottomed bell peppers, it claims, are male, while four bottomed bell peppers are female. Female bell peppers have more seeds than males. For this reason, eHow advises always buying “male” bell peppers at the grocery store… since females have more seeds, they weigh more, and weigh more because of something you will only throw away, making them a waste of money.

If there is any such thing as male and female bell peppers, the designation is culinary, not biological, and if it is a culinary designation, it does not appear to be a widespread one. Fruits (bell peppers are biologically fruits, being the seed bearing part of the plant) have no gender [that is, sex]. They are not the plant’s sexual parts, but the vehicles for its offspring, formed only after the plant has been pollinated and fertilized. On most flowering plants, including bell peppers, the flowers that become the fruit have both male and female parts, making them androgynous [some sources prefer bisexual or hermaphroditic]. All bell peppers [well, bell pepper flowers], then, are hermaphrodites.

Most flowers are bisexual, having both male and female parts. From Wikipedia:

A “perfect” flower has both stamens and carpels, and may be described as “bisexual” or “hermaphroditic”. A “unisexual” flower is one in which either the stamens or the carpels are missing, vestigial or otherwise non-functional. Each flower is either “staminate” (having only functional stamens) and thus “male”, or “carpellate” (having only functional carpels) and thus “female”. If separate staminate and carpellate flowers are always be found on the same plant, the species is called “monoecious”. If separate staminate and carpellate flowers are always found on different plants, the species is called “dioecious”. In a 1922 study of 120,000 species of flowering plant, the great majority (about 72%) were reported to be bisexual. By contrast, about 10% of species had strictly unisexual flowers, with around 7% strictly unisexual and monoecious, and around 4% strictly unisexual and dioecious.

Members of the birch family (Betulaceae) are examples of monoecious plants with unisexual flowers.

Then there’s the papaya:

Papaya plants occur in one of three sexual forms: male, female, or hermaphrodite. These forms are expressed in the plant’s flower.

Male flowers have no ovary and do not produce a fruit. They contain stamens bearing pollen that can pollinate a papaya flower with an ovary, causing it to produce a fruit. Male papaya plants are somewhat rare in Hawaii, since the “solo” types generally grown [in Hawaii] do not produce male plants. Male flowers are conspicuously different from those of the other types because they are borne in large numbers on a branched, drooping flower stalk (peduncle).

Female papaya flowers have an ovary and are borne on the stem of the plant, where the leaf is attached (that is, in the axil of the leaf petiole). Female flowers are bulbous at the base and, before they open, pointed at the tip. The ovary of the female flower must receive pollen from another plant (either a male or hermaphrodite type) before it can be fertilized and produce a fruit containing viable seeds. The pollen is carried in the wind or on an insect. If there is no pollen in the vacinity, the small, developing fruit aborts and falls from the plant. Commercial growers remove female plants from their fields as soon as the first flowers appear and the sex of the plants can be determined.

Hermaphrodite flowers have both an ovary and stamens bearing pollen. They can pollinate themselves and do not require the presence nearby of another papaya plant. They are borne in the leaf axils, like the female papaya flowers.

The hermaphrodite plant is the preferred type of papaya plant for dependable fruit production, but under certain conditions its flower morphology is unstable and subject to “sex reversal.” (link)

In any case, fruits develop from the female parts of flowers, however these are distributed in the plants. So either it makes no sense to talk about the sex of a fruit, or else all fruits are female.

So much for pepper sex. Now a bonus, on the Bell pepper and the name pepper. From Wikipedia:

Bell pepper, also known as sweet pepper or a pepper (in the United Kingdom and Ireland) and capsicum (in India, Australia and New Zealand), is a cultivar group of the species Capsicum annuum. Cultivars of the plant produce fruits in different colors, including red, yellow, orange, chocolate brown, lilac, ivory, deep purple and green. Bell peppers are sometimes grouped with less pungent pepper varieties as “sweet peppers”. Peppers are native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. Pepper seeds were later carried to Spain in 1493 and from there spread to other European, African and Asian countries. Today, China is the world’s largest pepper producer, followed by Mexico and Indonesia.

… The misleading name “pepper” was given by Christopher Columbus upon bringing the plant back to Europe. At that time peppercorns, the fruit of Piper nigrum, an unrelated plant originating from India, was a highly prized condiment; the name “pepper” was at that time applied in Europe to all known spices with a hot and pungent taste and so naturally extended to the newly discovered Capsicum genus. The most commonly used alternative name of the plant family, “chile”, is of mexican origin, from the Nahuatl word chilli or xilli. Bell peppers are botanically fruits, but are generally considered in culinary contexts to be vegetables.

While the bell pepper is a member of the Capsicum genus, it is the only Capsicum that does not produce capsaicin, a lipophilic chemical that can cause a strong burning sensation when it comes in contact with mucous membranes.



2 Responses to “Bell pepper sex”

  1. Sex sells | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 1,019 views The body and its parts: 359 views Pub(l)ic notice: 345 views Cock tease: 131 views Bell pepper sex: 97 views Annals of ejaculation: 87 […]

  2. noaahrd Says:

    Robert of Robert is Here ( once explained to us how to grow papaya: find a fruit you like, plant the seeds, and wait until they flower. At that point, you can sex the plants and remove the males. “Males are useless.”

    Words to live by.

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