Male and Female Bell Peppers – What’s the Difference?

There is no such thing as male and female bell peppers. Bell peppers do not have sex organs and cannot be classified as male or female. The differences of a bell pepper perpetuated in the myth like sweetness and number of seeds in peppers with three or four lobes are also false.

The Male vs. Female Bell Pepper Myth Broken Down

The myth goes like this. If you look at the bottom of a bell pepper you can tell if it is male or female from the amount of lobes it has. A bell pepper that has three lobes is male and has less seeds and is less sweet than a female bell pepper. A female bell pepper has four lobes on the bottom and has more seeds and is sweeter. The female bell pepper is better to eat raw because of its sweeter flavor.

  • Truth #1 – The sweetness of a bell pepper is not determined by the number of lobes on the bell pepper. Sweetness of a bell pepper is determined mainly by ripeness and the variety of the pepper. A green bell pepper is less mature and ripe. Left on the vine a green bell pepper will start to sweeten and turn yellow, orange, or red. After it’s picked the bell pepper will not continue to ripen. A bell pepper will turn yellow, orange, red, or even purple depending on the variety. Varieties that stay green through maturity are not common.
  • Truth #2 – The amount of lobes does not determine the amount of seeds inside a bell pepper. Generally a larger bell pepper will house more seeds than a smaller bell pepper.
  • Truth #3 – A bell pepper can have anywhere from 2-7 lobes on the bottom. Three and four are the most common amounts because the genes of popular varieties of bell peppers regularly produce bell peppers with three or four lobes on the bottom. The amount of lobes on a bell pepper is decided by the genes of the bell pepper plant and growing conditions, not whether it’s male or female. If three and four lobes represented male and female what would bell peppers with 2, 5, 6, or 7 lobes be?

How to Choose Bell Peppers

  • Choose bell peppers with taut wrinkle free skin
  • Avoid bruises, dark spots, and large cracks
  • Look for a healthy green stem coming from the pepper
  • A dark green pepper is more ripe than a light green bell pepper
  • A good bell pepper has well hydrated thick walls and will feel heavier than it looks

Bell Pepper Flowers – Male vs. Female

Bell pepper flowers are what’s known as bisexual or perfect. Every flower on a bell pepper plant has both male and female reproductive parts. They have the stamens that are the male reproductive part and the stigma that has a tube attaching it to the ovary. The stigma has a sticky part that catches the pollen, or sperm, and sends it down the tube to meet with the ovary. After successful pollination each flower will become a fruit.

Bell peppers are also known as monoecious, meaning a plant with both male and female flowers on it. A monoecious plant can have flowers that are bisexual or perfect like the flowers on bell peppers, or unisexual or imperfect like the flowers on cucumbers or corn.

Cucumber plants have around 10-15 flowers on a plant. It’s easy to tell the female flowers from the male flowers because the female flowers will have an inch long what looks like miniature cucumber behind the flower attaching it to the vine. This is the ovary that once pollinated will turn into a cucumber ready to harvest in 7-10 days. Modern varieties of cucumbers have been bred to have more female flowers than male.

The female cucumber flower is on the left with the ovary behind it that once pollinated will turn into a cucumber ready to pick in 7-10 days. On the right are male cucumber flowers.

In fact, some varieties of cucumbers come in seed packets that have a few dyed or markered seeds in the packet. In this case the majority of the seeds in the packet are what’s called feminized and will produce only female flowers. The reason that some of the seeds have been dyed a different color is to let you know that those are the normal seeds of the variety that will have both male and female flowers. It’s a must to have some of the male flowers to pollinate all the female flowers. You want to make sure and not thin out the dyed colored seeds so that you don’t eliminate the plants with male flowers. Hand pollination can give increased yields in small gardens with only a few cucumber plants that have male flowers.

Corn is another monoecious plant that has unisexual or imperfect flowers of each sex on each plant. The corn flowers are not what you regularly think of as flowers. The tassels on the top of corn are the male flowers and contain anywhere from 2-25 million spores of pollen, the sperm or male gametes. The ears of corn with the silk protruding is the female flower. Each piece of silk hanging from the ear has the chance of being fertilized and becoming a single kernel of corn on the cob! An average of about 600 kernels form on ears of corn meaning 600 pieces of silk were fertilized successfully from a piece of pollen off of a corn tassel. To learn more here’s an article on it, “How Does Corn Pollinate?”.

The male flowers of corn are the tassels pictured on the left and the female flowers are the ears with the protruding silks.

Bell Pepper Pollination

Bell peppers are what’s known as self-pollinating but that name can be slightly misleading. Bell peppers will for the most part pollinate themselves because of the close proximity of the male and female parts in each flower. However, they still require a little help from the wind and also the insects to ensure good pollination.

The wind will shake the flower causing the pollen to spread from the stamen and some of it to land on the female stigma which results in successful pollination. The insects also help by buzzing around inside the flower causing pollen to spread from the stamen and carrying pieces of pollen from one flower to another.

You can assist bell peppers and maximize pollination by using this thing or a small paint brush and twirling it around inside each flower. This will result in guaranteed pollen spread and almost guaranteed pollination. By doing this inside each flower you give the plant the best chance of a successful pollination and eventual fruit coming from every flower.

Bell Peppers Cross Pollination

Cross pollination can occur from different varieties of bell peppers or from hot peppers. This will not make a bell pepper become hot. The difference comes in the seeds. The seeds in a bell pepper that was cross pollinated by a hot pepper will produce a pepper that is a mix between the bell pepper and hot pepper.

To avoid cross pollination the only definitive method is to put bags over the blooms on the pepper plant to avoid any pollen from finding its way to the female part of the flower. Then take a paint brush and self-pollinate the flowers with the flowers you want to pollinate that variety with. Replace the bag over the blooms to make sure no cross pollination occurs.

Another method of avoiding cross pollination is to stagger the planting of varieties so that they bloom and pollinate at different times. Also you can plant them a long distance away if you have the space, at least 300 yards. Physical barriers in between the two planting areas like forest is helpful to prevent cross pollination also.

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