Heirloom Fish Peppers

July 6, 2006

I began growing Fish Peppers a couple of years ago and liked them so much that they’ve been included in every garden since that initial planting.

The great thing about this unusual vegetable is that the plant is very ornamental and produces huge crops of tasty peppers.

Heirloom Peppers with Attractive Foliage and Fruits

Heirloom Fish Peppers PhotoFish Peppers are unique and easily identified by the splashes of white and yellow that decorate the green variegated leaves. In addition to the leaves being variegated the fruits of this pepper plant are multi-colored as well.

The immature fruits are predominately green and white or cream colored, changing to shades of red, orange, rust, and brown, with striped accents of green, yellow, and cream mixed in when fully mature.

Fish Peppers are very attractive with broad shoulders gradually tapering to a point on these short ornamental fruits. The peppers are mild flavored and were traditionally used in oyster and fish houses around the Chesapeake Bay region in the state of Maryland.

Growing Fish Peppers in the Backyard Garden

You can grow these productive peppers in the same manner that you would cultivate the more common sweet bell peppers. Start the plants from seed indoors under lights or purchase transplants to set out into the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

Plant Fish Peppers in clusters and situate them in the garden to take advantage of their ornamental appearance. Give them plenty of room as the plants will branch and spread to reach three feet in height and grow over three feet wide when well grown.

The plants support themselves fairly well, but you may want to provide stakes or a cage to offer additional support to the mature plants and ensure that they remain upright. Fish Peppers are even suitable for container growing and can be grown on a deck or in a patio garden.

Harvesting and Enjoying Delicious Fish Peppers

The fruits are borne in clusters all over the plants. You can harvest and use the peppers at any stage but allow them to mature and change into their reddish hues for the best flavor. The ripened peppers will hold on the plant after they mature and this heirloom variety will continue producing new fruits through the fall and until a killing frost strikes the garden.

Photo of Fish PeppersThe fruits are pretty versatile and lend themselves to raw uses in salads or vegetable trays, or they can be cooked as an ingredient in your favorite recipes.

If you enjoy growing peppers and happen to be searching for a new variety that is interesting and ornamental be sure to add this African-American heirloom pepper to your list. Fish Peppers will reward you with a display of ornamental foliage and fruits, and loads of delicious peppers suitable for a range of culinary uses.

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  • These sound fabulous, and I love that they’re from the Chesapeake Bay region — I’ve lived in and visited that area my whole life, and never heard of them before. I’d like to try to find them for next year. Do you usually just order the seeds? Or is it possible to get seedlings from somewhere?


  • where are they on the spicy scale?

  • How would you compare the yield to a normal bell pepper? If you could only plant one of them, which would it be?

  • Kenny Point

    Genie, you can purchase seeds for Fish Peppers from many of the heirloom vegetable seed suppliers. This year I was able to locate a couple of transplants at the Landis Valley Museum’s Herb & Garden Faire. Rachelle, the fruits of Fish Peppers are mild and not very spicy at all. Janet, because Fish Peppers are smaller and ripen faster than bell peppers you will probably harvest more of them, but if I could only plant one type in my garden I would definitely choose the bell pepper varieties over Fish Peppers.

  • Cool — thanks for the info, Kenny! Much appreciated.

  • Ron

    Foliage is variegated as are the peppers, which ripen to red. Can be taken inside in cold climates and the lant will survive many years turning into a shrub. I would say milder than jalapeno.

  • Julie

    A friend gave me a few cups of fish peppers and I’d like to put them to good use. Would you recommend making a sauce, or should I string and dry them? Thanks for any help you can offer.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Julie, the fish peppers are small and have thin walls so they should be very easy to string and dry or you could experiment with preserving them in oil or vinegar like I have seen others do with cayenne type pepper varieties.

  • Julie

    Thanks a bunch!

  • THANK YOU SO MUCH, I found the article and these sound great! I’ll be sure to save some for a trip to the beach this fall and incorporate them in a soup or bisque.


  • Halloo, Barb keeler of the small NVA Garden article. In Northern VA, DeBaggio’s Herbs, a small family-owned nursery, carries a wide variety of chili peppers amongst their wide variety of veggie plants. They have a website listing varieties and when they will be available. I have always found their plants strong and healthy. Yes, they have fish peppers. They also carry one called “Fatalii” which I swear is hotter than a habanero.

  • Thomas

    Hello, I my self purchased a Fish and poinsetta plants this year, the poinsetta has been producing very well but the fish plant it is budding like crazy but no fruit! Do you have any suggestions?

  • Kenny Point

    Thomas, I really don’t have any suggestions, if they are budding they should eventually begin producing some fruits for you. I would just continue feeding and watering as needed and watch for fruit development.

  • Marsha Bradbury

    I have been growing fish peppers for 2 years now and they are producing beautifully but I don’t know what to do with them? Any ideas anyone?
    I would love to dry or preserve them and also cook with them but I need some helpful ideas.

  • Kenny Point

    Marsha, Fish Peppers were traditionally used as a seasoning for seafood in the Chesapeake Bay area. Use them in a variety of recipes that call for spicy, flavorful peppers. Fish peppers should be pretty easy to dry in a dehydrator or laid out on a screen.

  • Marsha Bradbury

    Thanks Kenny. I found a recipe for Fish Pepper Picililli (sp) sauce and my mother has been busy canning it for 2 days now. It is kind of like a very spicy chille sauce. Can’t wait to try it on meat or fish. Next I am going to try drying them.

  • Ferret

    I recently moved out of a military barracks to a nice 3 bedrm on 4 arces. I immediatly began planting a garden, and I happened upon a fish pepper at a local flea market here in Florida. The lady said they were popular in the North east like Philly. Well, since I grew up in Philly I said, I’ll take one. I bought a habanero, a jalapeno, a datil, and a fish pepper plant each. The fish is the only one thus far producing fruit.
    Guess it knows where I grew up.

  • Jakey

    I was looking for thai hots, but got talked into buying a fish pepper at a farmers’ market here in Philly about a month ago. It is in a container on the roof ledge outside my West facing 3rd floor window. It gets good sun from the south and west, and is getting quite tall, but hasn’t really broadened out yet or produced any flowers. Should I be worried, or patient? Can I trust the bees to pollinate it all the way up here? I’m not a gardener and this is my first outdoor plant.

  • BobbiRae

    I started growing fish pepper indoors in compost dirt. I planted one seed…but 5 little sprouts have appeared. Does anyone know if this is because there could have been other seeds in the compost? How do I know the difference between the pepper sprout, and another sprout? This is my first year gardening, and I have no idea!

  • victoria

    Hi all,
    thank you kenny for posting the fish pepper on your site….i just discovered them from fedco seeds this winter and have 9 plants growing in my garden…they are truly beautiful with tons of immature peppers…i was wondering when to harvest (i sell my produce at the local farmers market) and am excited to offer these peppers to the locals here in wellfleet, mass. cannot wait to try them with our famous oysters. anyway, they are cream and green now, will they have some flavor if i harvest them or should i wait until completely ripe? what do you think? i guess i could just cut one up and try it with the striped bass i have for dinner tonite.

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Victoria, you can harvest the Fish Peppers at any stage of growth, I like to let them ripen just to see the full range of colors that they will change into but you can harvest some now and they are so productive that you will have plenty left to fully ripen. There are so many great heirloom varieties of peppers out there and Fish Peppers and Rat Turd Peppers are a couple of my favorites!

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