Chili de Arbol

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Harvest Size: 2 to 3 inches long
  • Days to Harvest: 75 to 80
  • Plant Size: 36 to 48 inches tall, 20 to 24 inches wide
  • Scoville units: 50,000 to 60,000 (hot)

Chili de Arbol (tree chile) is known by several names: pico de pajara (bird’s beak) and cola de rata (rat’s tail). Tree chile refers to plant height, which can reach 4 feet, as well as to the woody stem on fruits. The other colorful names describe the slender, spear-shaped peppers, which ripen from green to fiery red. This heirloom pepper hails from Chihuahua, Mexico, and is a favorite in Mexican cooking because of its bold heat and smoky flavor. Many chili cook-off competitors prefer chili de arbol over cayenne due to its complex taste and sizzling heat.

Plants produce peppers all summer long even in summer heat and humidity.

Plant in spring to early summer starting anytime about two weeks after the last spring frost. If you like to plant a little early to start harvesting earlier, be prepared to protect plants from possible frost and keep them a little warmer with a row cover.

Plant Spacing: 18-24 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart; 12 to 18 inches in intensive gardens. One plant per 18-inch container. Plants Per Person: 2 for fresh use; 4 to 6 for freezing, canning, or creating pepper sauce, relish, and jelly.

Secrets to Success »

Water regularly. Although more forgiving than bigger pepper types, you'll get more and better fruit if you water regularly. Drought stress often makes the peppers hotter, too. To help keep the soil moist, mix compost into planting holes, and mulch soil around plants. Fertilize during the growing season with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. Pepper branches are brittle. Stake plants as fruits start to form, tying pepper-laden branches to stakes, or use small tomato cages for support.

Harvest and Use »

Snip stems of individual peppers using a sharp knife or clippers, leaving a small portion of stem attached. Rinse and dry peppers; store in the refrigerator. The more peppers you pick, the more you’ll get. Pick at any stage—from green to red—until you determine the stage and heat your family enjoys. For best results drying peppers, allow fruits to mature fully, turning bright red.

Handle hot peppers with care; it’s best to wear disposable gloves when harvesting or handling fruit. To avoid burning sensations, don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or nasal areas while working with hot peppers. Wash your hands before using the bathroom, even if you’ve been wearing gloves. Capsaicin, the compound that produces the heat in a hot pepper, is primarily concentrated in the veins, ribs, and seeds, but sensitivity to it varies. Use caution until you know how you’ll react. If pepper juice gets in your eye or nose, flush immediately with cold water. When the fire is in your mouth, grab milk or yogurt to counteract the burn.

Peppers are packed with Vitamins A and C—twice the vitamin C of an orange. Use Chili de Arbol pepper to season chili sauce or create spicy hot pepper vinegar. Chop fresh peppers into salsa or Southwest-style dishes. Dry peppers and grind into a powder to use for seasoning soups and stews. Chili de Arbol peppers retain their bright red color when dried. This is the pepper most frequently used to create ornamental wreaths and ristras (pepper strings).

Try these garden companions »

  • Habanero or Serrano pepper, Anaheim pepper, Poblano/Ancho pepper, onions, and tomatoes to blend a signature hot pepper sauce.
  • Cilantro, chives, tomatoes, and onions—all the ingredients you need for creating hot and spicy salsa.
  • Sweet onion, Thai basil, tomatillo, crookneck squash, and Husky Cherry Red tomatoes to put spicy stir-fry on the family menu.
  • Geraniums, petunias, marigolds—colorful-fruited peppers look great tucked into flower beds.

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