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.
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.
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!