Scientific Name:Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum
Common Name: McMahon's Texas Bird Pepper
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 He had high hopes that the bird pepper would prove hardier than 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.2
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
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