McMahon's Texas Bird Pepper

Texas Bird Pepper

Common Name: McMahon's Texas Bird Pepper[1]

Scientific Name: Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Thomas Jefferson first obtained seed of the Bird Pepper in 1812 from Captain Samuel Brown, who was stationed in San Antonio, Texas. Jefferson recorded planting this pepper in pots and in the kitchen garden in 1814.[2] He had high hopes the Bird Pepper would prove hardier to other species, and forwarded seeds to his favorite nurseryman, Bernard McMahon of Philadelphia, in 1813. McMahon played a key role in spreading this plant around the U.S.[3]

This native of southwest Texas, Mexico, and Central America, had potentially important medicinal qualities as well as culinary uses in vinegars, sauces, and pickles. It is a tender ornamental vegetable with petite, sparkling red, berry-like peppers covering the plant from mid-summer through fall.

Primary Source References[4]

1813 May 25. (Samuel Brown to Jefferson). "By the next mail I shall do myself the favor of sending you as much of the Capsicum as yo can use until your own becomes productive...In this warm climate our relish for Capsicum is greatly increased...I have even had thoughts of hinting to the Secretary of War the propriety of substituting Capsicum for a part of the Ration of Spirits which are allowed our troops & I am very confident that the effect of this change would soon be perceptible. I am informed by those who have lately returned from St. Antonio that the Inhabitants of that part of the Continent use this small indigenous Capsicum in almost every thing they eat & that they attribute to it medicinal qualities to which they acknowledge themselves indebted for the singular portion of health which they are said to enjoy."[5]

1814 April 28. (Jefferson to Samuel Brown). "the Capsicum I am anxious to see up; but it does not yet show itself."[6]

Footnotes

  1. This section is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet.
  2. Betts, Garden Book, 522. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  3. William Woys Weaver, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History(New York: Henry Holt, 1997), 264.
  4. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  5. Betts, Garden Book, 512-513.
  6. Ibid, 532. Polygraph Copy at Library of Congress.

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