It wasn’t something I thought of much when I was on Guam. They were wild, they had been there at least since the Spanish arrived in the Marianas, they were spread.. how? A common theory is as they are pequin type peppers (e.g. bird peppers), that birds spread them from island to island.

There is however a comment on the Wikipedia that the common Guam/Saipan boonie is some kind of Thai ornamental pepper. The reasoning behind this is that the peppers point upwards on both plants.  However, there are some problems with this thesis. For one the Guam boonie isn’t classified as the same species as the Thai ornamental. I verified this by emailing New Mexico State University’s Chili Pepper Institute, who replied:

…we have the Guam Boonie as a Capsicum frutescens, it is not the same thing as a Thai. Hope this helps, thanks for writing

The second is that they’re hardly the same size. While the Guam boonie reaches well over 3 feet in height, the Thai ornamental is a plant that gets to 12-18 inches high.

I wrote my bachelor’s alma mater, the University of Guam, and got a couple interesting comments out of that. From a comment from Phoebe Wall to a member of the alumni group at UOG I get this:

The “boonie pepper” is definitely Capsicum frutescens. There is a lot [of] variation in types. I imagine [Food Near Snellville] is probably referring to the donne’ sali (the small one that is really pika).

and from Professor Mari Marutani (she’s the resident UOG expert on the Guam boonie)  I received this reply:

Hi [Food Near Snellville],
Two hot pepper plants are known in Guam. One is “donne’sali” (C. frutescens) that is characterized to have small, bright red, and very pungent fruits. The other is “donne’ ti’au” (C. annuum), a long, red and pungent pepper. “Donne’sali” has long been harvested from the wild and “donne’ ti’au” is mainly grown in the backyard garden. Selections of each were documented once as ‘Guam Super Hot’ donne’sali, (C. frutescens), and ‘Guam Regular Hot’ possibly a selection of donne’ti’au C. annuum. ‘Guam Super Hot’ is very pungent having Scoville heat unit of 4000-4250, while ‘Guam Regular Hot’ was reported to have an average of 3450 (Lee, C. T. 1987. ‘Guam Super Hot’ chili pepper. HortScience 22:1341). However, unfortunately original specimens of both ‘Guam Super Hot’ and ‘Guam Regular Hot’ have been lost and we will not be able to examine them.

Occasionally, some farmers sell their own selected lines and wild hot peppers (‘boonie’ peppers) to the roadside vendors and local supermarkets. Since there is a great possibility of cross pollination (often by bees), this self-pollinated plant often has a genetic variations in natural environment. People of Guam know there are variation of Donne sali. For example, Mr. Cruz has one kind and Mrs. Santos has slightly different one, hotter or very PIKA.

Mari

In short, the boonie is not the Thai pepper. And what you get may vary considerably, due to genetics.

Advertisements