Ornamental Peppers Guide: The Bold And The Colorful

Chili peppers are more than good eats. There’s a whole world of ornamental peppers out there that are hallmarks of edible landscaping. From multi-colored beauties to fruits that are black as night, these hot peppers are bred to accentuate their looks, adding a real sense of drama to a space. Our ornamental peppers guide showcases some of the best for both outdoor use and container gardening. Click on any of the profile links to get an even fuller sense of what each of these chilies is all about.

Note: All ornamental peppers are edible, though they aren’t known for their complexity of flavor. Since they are bred for their aesthetics, flavor is secondary. Their heat is often surprisingly intense and, while peppery in flavor, there’s often not a lot of nuance to the flavor. Still – these peppers can add a real color pop to the plate or in a fresh salsa.

Mild Ornamental Peppers

Tangerine Dream Pepper

Tangerine Dream Pepper

0 to 100 Scoville heat units
See our full Tangerine Dream pepper profile here.

Talk about an orange crush,. We love the Tangerine Dream pepper, both for ornamental and culinary use. Unlike many other ornamentals, there’s actually a delicious sweetness to the flavor of the Tangerine Dream. And it’s really mild in heat – just a tick on the pepper scale above a bell pepper. The orange color, too, really pops against its green leaves. If you want your ornamental pepper as close to a sweet pepper as possible, this is it.

Medusa Pepper

Medusa Pepper

1 to 1000 Scoville heat units
See our full Medusa pepper profile here.

The Medusa pepper takes its name right from the mythological creature. There’s a whole lot of slightly curved (and upright) multi-colored chilies on a compact plant creating a real “head of snakes” like feel. The compactness of the plant makes the Medusa pepper a perfect ornamental pepper for small spaces and container gardening. It has a touch of sweetness as well and a simmering mild heat that can get about as hot as a poblano pepper.

Chilly Chili

Chilly Chili

1 to 1,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Chilly Chili profile here.

The Chilly Chili is beautifully bright, with upright chilies showcasing multiple hues of yellow, orange, and red against a compact plant. They, too, work well in containers and provide a mild heat comparable to a poblano p at their highest point (though they can come very close to zero heat as well). They have a peppery flavor, though, without much nuance.

Medium Heat Ornamental Peppers

Numex Centennial

NuMex Centennial

1,000 to 5,000 Scoville heat units
See our full NuMex Centennial profile here.

With their more bulbous, pequin-like fruits, the NuMex Centennial provides a festiveness much like Christmas lights do. The fruits age at different times, providing a wide variety of purples, yellows, oranges, and reds to the ornamental. There’s jalapeño level heat here, but (as you’d expect) not a lot of flavor underneath it. It’s peppery, without the brightness you’d find in a jalapeño.

Bolivian Rainbow Pepper

Bolivian Rainbow Pepper

10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Bolivian Rainbow Pepper profile here.

The name says it all with the Bolivian rainbow pepper. This beauty matures into multiple colors – purple, yellow, orange, and red. And the upright pods have a Christmas light shape that really draws the eye. In terms of heat, the Bolivian rainbow sits above a jalapeño pepper – reaching cayenne level heat, so while edible this chili may be too spicy for some.

black pearl pepper

Black Pearl Pepper

10,000 to 30,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Black Pearl pepper profile here.

If you are looking for a chili pepper with a haunting name and a dramatic look – the Black Pearl is top of the pack. It’s a dark treasure – to start. Then, this tiny chili ages to a stunning crimson red. The fruit’s bold colors are set against dark leaves, adding to the dramatic effect. Black Pearl peppers do carry heat that can reach cayenne pepper level, so don’t let the small size fool you.

Black Cobra Pepper

Black Cobra Pepper

20,000 to 40,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Black Cobra pepper profile here.

Another black pepper stunner, the Black Cobra’s thin, curved shape rises above the foliage like a cobra’s head ready to strike. It’s an edgy ornamental pepper for sure, and there’s a good amount of spiciness here (at its peak it can reach the mid-range of cayenne pepper), but there’s little nuance to the overall flavor of the chili.

numex twilight

NuMex Twilight

30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units
See our full NuMex Twilight pepper profile here.

The NuMex Twilight’s small pods showcase a world of color throughout the season – starting purple, then aging into yellows, oranges, and finally reds. And the heat is full-blown cayenne level, sharing the exact same Scoville range as the spice rack staple. The fruits of the NuMex Twilight are edible, but not flavorful. In fact, they have a salty, bitter undertone which makes them more difficult than many other ornamentals to use in the kitchen. Still – it’s a beauty in the garden and that’s what matters most for ornamentals.

Aji Omnicolor

Aji Omnicolor

30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Aji omnicolor pepper profile here.

Multiple colors (as you can likely guess) are the name of the game with aji omnicolor. But what’s striking is the pastel hues the pods take on. The purple is often like a light lavender, the white like a subtle cream. Of course there are oranges and reds across the spectrum, too. The lighter hues though really set the aji omnicolor apart. What also sets it apart is there is real nuance to the flavor here. It’s sweet and fruity, perfect for summer fruit salsa, as long as you can take the cayenne-level heat.

rooster spur pepper

Rooster Spur Pepper

30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units
See our full rooster spur pepper profile here.

The name here isn’t as “ornamental” as others. In fact – it’s more practical. The rooster spur pepper gets its name because the chili pod is slim and curved, like a rooster’s spur. They look a lot like Thai chilies, but without quite the same level of heat (the rooster spur follows the same Scoville heat range as cayenne pepper). They grow green to red, so the rooster spur is not as colorful as others on the list – but still a beauty! And there’s quite a bit of flavor here, bright and peppery (more so than other ornamentals), so it works well in the kitchen.

Super Chili Pepper

Super Chili Pepper

40,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units
See our full Super Chili pepper profile here.

Super Chilies are much like rooster spur peppers, only slightly longer and with a slightly higher floor in terms of heat. The chilies are slim and curved – again like a Thai pepper. They also age from green to red, with shades of orange along the way. These ornamental peppers don’t have quite the flavor rooster spur peppers, though. It’s mostly heat that you taste given the spiciness is relatively high compared to other ornamentals.

Extra Hot Ornamental Peppers

Prairie Fire Pepper

Prairie Fire Pepper

70,000 to 80,000 Scoville heat units
See our full prairie fire pepper profile here.

It’s a world of color that’s backed up by a considerable heat! That’s the prairie fire pepper. The are small, like Christmas lights, with all sorts of colors on the plant: reds, yellows, oranges, purples, and creams. There’s surprising amount fruitiness in this ornamental, but it’s behind a pretty big spicy kick. They equal Thai peppers in heat (twice the heat of many cayenne peppers and ten times the heat of the hottest possible jalapeño). These are beauties in the garden or container, and they make one wicked salsa.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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Which ornamental pepper dark leaves, berries are small and round, starts green then turns deep purple/ black?