Debunking Internet Story About Male And Female Peppers

I love the internet because it’s so easy to research information about many topics. I never want to see another library’s card-catalog, and I’ve long forgotten how to use the Dewey Decimal system of research. That’s why I’m totally flabbergasted when false internet gardening information is shared, such as the recent post making the rounds about male and female peppers.

This is very, very false.

The post, that I’ve seen popping up in numerous places and shared all over Facebook says “Flip bell peppers over to check their gender. The ones with 4 bumps are females and those with 3 bumps are male. The female peppers are full of seeds, but sweeter and better for eating raw and the males are better for cooking. I did not know this.”

This so flagrantly false, it’s enough to leave Mendel, Linnaeus, and every other dead botanist spinning in their graves. There are no such things as male and female pepper fruits. In fact, there are no such things as separate male and female pepper flowers. Members of the solanacea family of plants, like pepper, tomato and potato have ‘perfect’ flowers. Each perfect flower contains both male pollen anthers and female pistils, all within the same flower. The pepper fruit happens within the flower when the flower’s male pollen lands on the female pistil, and the pistil’s lower portion (ovary) enlarges. A fruit’s definition is a ripened ovary.

Pepper flower, showing both male and female parts, all within the same flower

So there are no male and female pepper fruits. A pepper fruit (and all fruits) are results of the female ovary expanding.

Regarding the male/female pepper rumor, Oregon State University writes “This is a garden myth. By definition, all pepper fruits are ripened ovaries containing seeds formed after pollination. The bumps or lack thereof are primarily related to the variety and growing conditions. Sweetness is usually a factor of ripeness. Thus red bell peppers are sweeter than green.”

Some plant families, such as the cucurbits (pumpkin, squash, melons, cucumbers) have separate male and female flowers on the same plant. But the fruits are still the result of the female flower’s ovary expanding. The male flowers fall off after their pollen is shed; the female flower persists and expands into a fruit, if pollination (fertilization) was successful.

So don’t bother trying to distinguish between male and female pepper fruits to determine eating quality. So why do some pepper fruits have 4 lobes and some 3? It’s just the way the pollen lands, and how the female portion is fertilized and how many portions expand. Sometimes you even find 5 lobes. Sometimes it just one big blob.

Now we know. Happy Gardening!


4 Responses

  1. Shirley

    Thank you for your Web Site. I have learned so much from you. I have a problem in our very small garden. For 3-4 years I have planted potatoes that get scab and tomatoes that get wilt now. Plus we have woodchucks that live under our neighbors shed and they sure like to eat my tomatoes. I was thinking of putting a couple of raised beds in using compost lumber on the bottom boards as we
    and 3 neighbors have water standing in that area every year. [ Our neighbor raised their back yard] What are your thoughts on this procedure?
    Spring is just around the corner. Yah

    1. Don Kinzler

      Thanks for your comments. I think raised gardens would be a great idea in that area. Many gardeners have wonderful success with the ‘square foot gardening’ method, of intensive gardening in raised wooden planters. Let me know if I can help further. My direct email which is easier to ask questions is Thanks.

  2. Deb Zillich

    Thank you for debunking the male/female pepper myth. I was gullible enough to fall for the story on facebook and have been in the grocery story trying to remember which is which!! I enjoy receiving your email newsletters.

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