Calico Pepper: Ornamental Chili & Pretty Variegated Foliage

calico pepper
Calico peppers are stunning ornamental chiles that combine beauty and heat. The pepper's purple, cream, and dark green variegated leaves are its most outstanding feature. With a peppery taste, calico chiles are a worthy addition to your home garden and kitchen.

What Are Calico Peppers?

Calico peppers are a unique heirloom pepper variety belonging to the capsicum annuum species. The chiles have colorful pods and beautifully-patterned leaves, making them a darling to landscapers.

Commonly known as ornamental pepper ‘calico’ or, in Latin, capsicum annuum ‘calico,’ these chiles grow upright with wide-spreading branches. Calico’s pepper pods surround the plant creating a beautiful display of colors.

Unlike other ornamental chiles with attractive peppers, the calico pepper’s multi-colored foliage make it a beautiful addition to your garden even when it’s not fruiting.

These hot chiles are also excellent for spicing sauces and stews, while their bright hues bring a pop of color to fresh salsa or salads.


The calico hot pepper originated in Mexico. As history tells, these beauties may also have roots in South America. Native Indians living in the South-American rain forest are said to have grown the calico ornamental pepper for thousands of years.

The chili pepper got its name due to its multi-colored leaves. Like a calico cat with tri-colored fur, calico pepper leaves are variegated with three colors.


Calico chili pepper pods are elongated, narrow and conical, with slight tapering towards the tips. Its eye-catching leaves are pointy, while its flowers resemble small stars.


These stunning peppers are small and compact, making them ideal for flower pots or containers. A mature calico pepper plant gets up to 12 inches tall and 16 inches wide. Calico fruit pods are 1-2 inches long.


Calico pepper flowers bloom into a white hue with shades of purple and pink. Its young pepper pods start with a showy, glossy black fruit changing into a deep vibrant red on ripening.

With the calico pepper’s fantastic foliage being its epitome of beauty, the green leaves have beautiful speckles of purple and cream colors.


Like most ornamental chiles, these peppers don’t have a remarkable flavor. Calicos are neutral in taste, with a standard peppery taste. Nevertheless, they are colorful and spicy, making them a great pick if you want to add heat and color to your dishes without other flavor nuances.

Are Calico Peppers Hot?

Calico peppers are hot, with a range of 50,000-70,000 SHUs on the Scoville scale. The colorful chiles are 6-28 times spicier than a standard jalapeno.

The hottest calico has the same heat level as a mild prairie fire pepper (70,000-80,000 SHUs), while Thai chiles (50,000-100,000 SHUs) possess similar heat as calico peppers. Cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000 SHUs) is milder than a calico, whereas a habanero’s scorching heat makes it nearly 3-7 times hotter than a calico.

Can You Eat Calico Peppers?

Yes! Calico chiles are edible ornamental peppers. Their deep, black-red color plus high heat level makes them a worthy addition to hot sauces and fresh salsas.

How To Use Calico Peppers

These stunning chiles are best for landscaping. However, they give dishes decent heat and color.

A few ways you can use calico peppers in cooking include:

  • Salsas
  • Hot sauces
  • Salads
  • Pickling
  • Dried (powder and flakes)

 Where To Buy Calico Peppers

Despite their beautiful appearance, calico peppers are rare worldwide. Mostly, people grow them for landscaping rather than cooking.

If there’s a garden center nearby, you may find heirloom calico seeds there. If not, you can buy quality calico hot pepper seeds from specialized online stores.

Substitutes For Calico Peppers

If you can’t find calico peppers for your recipes, prairie fire ornamental chile is an excellent substitute for heat, with a touch of fruitiness.

Red Thai peppers also have calico Chile’s similar heat level, with a slightly different flavor profile.

Additionally, bird’s eye chili (50,000-100,000 SHUs) delivers calico’s peppery taste with a slight heat upgrade.

How To Grow Calico Peppers

Calico peppers are easy and fun to grow annual plants. They require regular maintenance and are heat tolerant.

The chiles are productive. They love full sun and moist conditions for germination within 10-15 days. Calicos are best grown in containers by a sunny window. The peppers are often ready for harvesting within 90-100 days.

While calico peppers are relatively drought tolerant and enjoy well-drained soil, they will need more frequent watering if you plant them outside in a container or hanging basket.

Since the calico pepper plant grows up to 12 inches tall, they are perfect for any position inside and outside your home, including border edging. 

Use fertilizers sparingly to avoid making your calico pepper ornamental plant soft and leggy. Remember, the chiles are open-pollinated so that you can save seeds for future use.


Aside from being a writer, Regie is a food lover. She loves adding chili to almost everything – apart from tea. Within her small compound, she has lots of red and green chilis that grow throughout the year. She looks forward to sharing her love and passion for pepper through crafting informational pieces that you’ll love. Happy reading!

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