Rocoto – Capsicum pubescens

Rocoto is one of the most interesting chillies to grow. It doesn’t suit everyone’s circumstances as it takes a long time to mature, and the plants grow huge. On the plus side, they are quite tough, resistant to diseases, infections and pests, and they tolerate cold more than almost any other variety. I think that to look at, they are one of the most stunning of chillies. On the plant they look like apples, hanging from a very thin curly stem. They grow to the size of small apples too, and whether they are red, yellow or orange, they look equally as impressive. Be prepared to let the plants grow to their full size, which can be 2m across and 1.5m high. You do this by giving them as big a pot and as much space as you can, large tubs or drums are better than plant pots. If you live in a region with mild winters they will live for years, and grown in the ground, will grow even bigger and form large shrubby bushes.

Rocoto Red chilli

I don’t grow them every year, as they take up so much space, but I thought I’d give them a go this year and put some plants outside, always a gamble in the UK. They fruit more quickly in higher greenhouse temperatures, so I kept them inside for as long as I could, then the biggest plant was moved out of the greenhouse for July and August when it really got too big. It is in a big earthenware pot which gives it enough weight to stop it falling over and it has spread quite wide, probably 1.5m. When I moved it back into the greenhouse in September I pruned it to remove the longest stems. You don’t normally have to do this but it was that or leave it out in the cold.

It fruited well, and they developed nicely outdoors, even though the August weather wasn’t great. September was warm so it carried on prospering and the fruits started to ripen in October; this is from seeds planted at the beginning of March.

Rocoto Flower

Rocoto Flower

I also experimented with planting one outside in the vegetable patch. The hairy leaves and stems characteristic of Capsicum pubescens are a deterrent to slugs and snails so it has been largely untouched by pests. This is still looking healthy even at the end of October, and it is flowering well but it won’t bear ripe fruit I am sure. I will leave it there to see how it survives the winter.

Rocoto Green

One strange characteristic of the rocoto is its black seeds, which you instantly notice when you slice one open, this is quite natural. Be careful when chopping these, they are packed full of juice which seems to spray everywhere, all over your knife, hands, and chopping board, even in your eyes if you get too close.

Rocoto Red Sliced

I find the taste and heat of rocoto quite different to other chillies. If you eat a small piece the burn is instant, very fresh and permeates quickly, as though the capsaicin has been dissolved in alcohol which isnot a nice experience for me, a bit like taking a slug of chilli vodka. Even though these aren’t hugely hot, around 60,000 SHU, they seem to punch above their weight and I find an equivalent sized piece of habanero affects me more favourably, it burns my mouth, yes, but doesn’t overcome me so quickly.

13 thoughts on “Rocoto – Capsicum pubescens

  1. I got one of these for a father day present donkeys ago and the plant is long dead now but I found the chillis went from green to a dark dark purple/brown and never ripened. Is this normal? I grew it in a polythene greenhouse.

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    • There are some that go brown not red. But even the red ones might go purple first then not ripen, they take ages. That’s why I don’t grow them often. But they overwintered well so I’ll have some early ones this year.

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  2. I’ve been growing the rocoto pepper for about 15 years and my first plants just expired this year, having a bit of trouble with the seedlings, any advice?

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    • Hi David, That’s amazing to keep them going that long. They aren’t great germinators, sometimes they take ages to emerge. But is that your problem or is it the small plants? Once they are going the y should be as easy as the others. Where are you in the world?

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  3. I have 3 plants 2-feet tall in large pots, grown from seed on my sunny screened in porch. But when I put them out in the sun (been really hot lately) they wilt. I tried “hardening” by gradual exposure but they seem to hate the heat. Any suggestions?

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    • It sounds like they are doing well and a little wilting in the hottest part of the day isn’t the end of the world but they don’t really need constant full sun if they are generally warm enough. Maybe try shading them for part of the day.

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  4. I am growing for the first time in the U.K. having grown every other type of chilli. What sort of size would you think the plant will reach in this first year?

    I probably started a bit late, sowing in mid March. The plants have been under a high intensity LED and vs my annum plants are still pretty small. Vs some Chinense plants they are pretty comparible.

    I am wondering if I should slowly ramp up the pot size like I would with a normal plant or just go for it and stick them in a 35 litre pot and get them under the sun.

    Any advice would be much appreciated

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    • Hi Owen,

      They are a bit slow to start but will grow really big given the chance so as long as you have the space you can go for a big pot. If you restrict them a bit you are more likely to get more fruit this year but but if you have somewhere to overwinter then go for it.

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  5. Hi,

    How would these fare as houseplants in your opinion? I don’t have an outdoor space big enough, nor a greenhouse. I have a small balcony that’s in the shade most of the day. Should I not bother with these?

    Thanks in advance!

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  6. Thanks for the good info Jason. I’m here on what’s called the Blackland Prairie of central Texas. Slow-draining, alkaline soil (‘clay’)… and with a little help through late summer (a good drink 2 times a week)… we basically can get two growing/production seasons in… for jalapeños, chile piqueno, bell peppers, habaneros, serranos, etc… one crop in early-mid summer, and then IF late summer (AUG) isn’t a blast furnace, they’ll produce another round in late fall.

    I’m guessing… with reasonably amended soil, 2-3 times a week water monitoring… and… shelter from northern exposures… capsicum pubescent can handle the soil, water, and full sun…

    But what might make it really unhappy, and knock the wind out of it… is the 1-2 punch of full direct sun and the late summer heat…?

    Another source suggested it might perform best around here in full morning sun, and no direct exposure after… 1-2 pm. That seems to make sense to me.

    Again thanks for the info, and if you have any thoughts, hunches, opinions…

    Thanks,

    L

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    • I think you are spot on. I suspect they would just carry on perennially as it would never get too cold. Full sun all day isn’t necessary so some shelter if you can give it would benefit them and any cold winter wind too. Good luck with them!

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