Support Our Work!

In honor of Thomas Jefferson’s 281st birthday, will you help us preserve and protect Monticello for generations to come?


Open Today &ndashp; 8:30AM - 5:30PM

Growth Type Annual
Hardiness Zones 1-10
Planting Conditions Full Sun
TJ Documented Plant Yes
Thomas Jefferson first obtained seeds of the Texas bird pepper in 1812 from Captain Samuel Brown, who was stationed in San Antonio. Jefferson recorded planting this pepper in pots and in the kitchen garden in 1814.[1] Jefferson had high hopes that the bird pepper would prove hardier than other species and sowed the seed in pots and in square XII of the Monticello vegetable garden. In 1813, he forwarded seeds to Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon of Philadelphia, who popularized the bird pepper as an ornamental pot plant in Pennsylvania and played a key role in spreading this namesake plant around the U.S.[2]
The Texas bird pepper is a lush, compact plant (one foot high) covered in early fall with tiny, quarter-inch, red-orange peppers. A native of southwest Texas, Mexico, and Central America, it had potentially important medicinal and culinary qualities. Samuel Brown said, "The Spaniards use it in fine Powder & seldom eat anything without it. The Americans . . . make a pickle of the green Pods with Salt & Vinegar which they use with Lettuce, Rice, Fish, etc."  It is a tender ornamental vegetable with petite, sparkling red, berry-like peppers covering the plant from mid-summer through fall.
Visit Monticello’s Online Shop to check for seeds or plants of McMahon's Texas Bird Pepper Seeds.
Typical Blooming Dates: July - September
Color(s): White
Fruit Color(s): Red-Orange
Location at Monticello: Vegetable Garden

Primary Source References

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 you can use until your own becomes productive A tablespoonful of the pods will communicate to Vinegar a fine aromatic flavor & that quantity is as much as would serve a northern family many months. 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."[3]

1814 April 28. (Jefferson to Samuel Brown). "[T]he Capsicum I am anxious to see up; but it does not yet shew itself."[4]

Further Sources


  1. ^ Betts, Garden Book, 522. Manuscript and transcription available online at Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  2. ^ William Woys Weaver, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History (New York: Henry Holt, 1997), 264.
  3. ^ PTJ:RS, 6:127-28. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ PTJ:RS, 7:326. Transcription available at Founders Online.

Monticello Pepper Jelly

Monticello Pepper Jelly

Grown and harvested in Monticello's gardens, our small batch artisanal red pepper jelly is made locally from a variety of heirloom peppers: Cayenne, Como di Toro, Bull Nose, Jimmy Nardello, Beaver Dam, Doe Hill, Texas Bird, Hinklehatz and fish peppers.