Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Hot on the trail of excess petals in the Bishop's Hat


And while we are counting petals (see last week's post) I have another corollic conundrum (assuming you'll allow me to use the term 'corollic' as an adjective for things pertaining to the corolla, the collection of petals in a flower). It relates to our latest chilli plants, gifted to us by Neville Walsh, and in flower here in the middle of January.


The plants are rather tall for a chilli, getting up to two metres or so (ours only hit one metre), with a fruit that is unusually shaped - like cap of some kind (but more of that later) - and flavoured - the basal part is relatively mild but sweet, but the top carries a decent (but not overwhelming) punch.

Tracking down the correct name for this chilli was, as it is for lots of garden favourites, tiresome. I think I have it sorted now though, thanks mostly to a Suburban Tomato post and to Natureman, responding on the UBC Botanical Garden Forum.

What I'm illustrating here is what we often call Scotch Bonnet in Australia, but elsewhere and sometimes in Australia too, Bishop's Hat, Bishop's Cap or Bishop's Crown. Scotch Bonnet in the UK, as I can attest from a particularly volatile sauce I bought from a Brighton (UK) chilli shop a few years back, is a quite different thing: it's a very hot fruited cultivar of Capsicum chinense, the same species responsible for the habaneros. Our fruit gets eaten by possums when red and ripe (yes a strange thing for us to do, grow food solely for wildlife), but here they are juvenile and green on the last day of January (two weeks after the flower photos).


The Australian Scotch Bonnet, or universal Bishop's Hat, is a cultivar of the species Capsicum baccatum, even though occasionally you see it referred to Capsicum annum. These two species are easily separated if you have flowers: those of baccatum have yellow or green spots, those of annum (and for that matter chinense) are entirely white or off-white.

So with its spotted flowers and bonnet/hat-shaped fruits that are not overwhelmingly hot in flavour, our cultivar belongs to Capsicum baccatum a South American species. Wikipedia agrees and says it's a cultivar of variety pendulum, providing a few more common names, such as peri peri (although not the 'real', and again hotter, peri peri which is a cultivar of year another species, Capsicum frutescens, another entirely white-flowered species).

According to a key at Jungle Rain the varieties are distinguish on the basis of their flower spot colour, yellow for variety pendulum and pale green for variety baccatum. Our plant has flowers with spots that could be described as either colour really so I'll stick with the straight species assignation. All up, tiresome to untangle but reasonably reasonable.


On the other hand, the number of petals on each flower seems entirely unreasonable. On our bush at home there are five, six or seven, in relatively equal proportion. I thought Capsicum, like all members of the family Solanaceae (think potatoes, tomatoes, Deadly Nightshade and Kangaroo Apple), had five petals. Here for reference is the flower of a Thai Birdseye chilli plant from last year, with five, entirely white petals (a cultivar of Capsicum annum).


When I checked a reliable sources (such as Vernon Heywood's majestic Flowering Plant Families of the World and David Mabberley's The Plant-Book) I find that while five is the most usual number of petals in a plant of this family, they do vary: Heywood says four to ten, Mabberley four to six.

Well, our flowers have five to seven petals. I can't recall ever seeming more than five on the entirely white-flowers species of Capsicum we've grown before, or for that matter on tomatoes or potatoes. But then again, I wasn't really looking, until now.


Notes: Lynda Entwisle noticed and commented on the odd (and even and odd) number of petals on these flowers, prompting this post. All pictures are from our backyard (the single picture of a white-flowered Thai Birdseye is from a couple of years ago, with the Bishop's Hat flowers and green fruit from January this year).

And a bonus picture, of a fruit picked green and reddened up inside, photographed a couple of weeks ago...



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