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Devil’s Tongue Pepper Research and on-Farm Demonstration-2002 Report

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This is a 2002 report from a NC Specialty Crops Program Project. It is posted for historical reference purposes.

Reviewed by Jeanine Davis, NC Alternative Crops & Organics Program, Department of Horticultural Science, NC State University on 3/22/2022.

PROJECT LEADER(S): Doug Sanders and Bill Jester, NC State University Horticultural Science Department
TYPE OF PROJECT: Research, On-Farm
LOCATION: Cunningham Research Station, Kinston, North Carolina


The super-hot pepper variety, ‘Devil’s Tongue’, is grown for use in the manufacture of pepper oils. While previous research has demonstrated great potential for production of this pepper in eastern North Carolina, additional experiments are needed to determine best production methods. The on-farm and research trials in this study were designed to evaluate various cultural techniques such as fertilization regimes and harvesting methods. Through our efforts to optimize pepper production and capsaicin concentration, we can continue to assess the suitability of this crop for the region and offer sound advice to potential growers.


Seed Production: Because seed of this pepper variety is in short supply, we planted 3/4 acre in 2000 to expand our supply. In 2001 we were able to obtain seed of the Red Habañero variety only; these results are reported in tables 1 and 2. The 2000 seed provided the basis for our 2002 work. We increased seed collection of two breeding lines to evaluate capsaicin levels and suitability for production in North Carolina. These two breeding lines were obtained from natural mutations found during our trials in 2000 and 2001.

Cultural Practices: ‘Devil’s Tongue’ was grown at the Cunningham Center in Kinston in order to identify best cultural practices for optimization of capsaicin yield as well as total production. We observed various grower production practices and conducted replicated plot research at the Cunningham Center totaling 3.5 acres. Another study investigated the optimal frequency of side dressing with Nitrogen fertilizer. We also evaluated the influence of in-row spacing. For all studies, total fruit yield was recorded and capsaicin levels were determined.

Mechanical Harvesting: We produced approximately one acre of the ‘Devil’s Tongue’ cultivar for a Boese machine harvest trial. This area was used to test the machine and make modifications before it was used on grower fields.

On-Farm Trials: We conducted one to two acre trial production on the farms of 9 growers from Stantonsburg to Clinton, North Carolina. We provided growers with suggested production practices and pepper transplants, and visited them periodically to provide crop management suggestions. Each of the grower locations was harvested with the Boese pepper harvester.


Seed Production: The breeding lines we tested showed good growth characteristics and adaptability to our cultural conditions. We obtained one pound of seed of each of these lines to be used for further testing in 2003.

Cultural Practices: Our research was adversely affected by high levels of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV) during the 2002 season, and results should be interpreted accordingly. High levels of TSWV prevented harvesting and data collection for the spacing study in 2002, and lowered yield for all trials significantly. For this reason, data from both 2001 and 2002 is presented in Tables 1 and 2.

A single side dressing of 20 lbs N/acre was as effective or better than 2 or 3 side dressings of 20 lbs N/acre. Capsaicin levels were highly variable, and the capsaicin yield per acre was not affected by N levels in 2001 or 2002. The yield in 2002 was 23 % of 2001 and the capsaicin yield per acre was 29% of 2001 (Table 1). The in-row plant population did not influence yield, capsaicin level or capsaicin yield per acre in 2001 (Table 2).

Table 1. The influence of side dress fertilizer and year on hot pepper yield, capsaicin yield, Scoville units and percent capsaicin in 2001 and 2002.
Devil’s Tongue Pepper Fertilization Study Yield and Capsaicin per Acre Kinston 2001, 2002

N Amount (lbs) Year Yield
per Acre
per Acre
Heat Units
20 2001 15246 188 184093 1.23
41 2001 14665 186 189745 1.26
60 2001 12923 175 201708 1.34
20 2002 3998 55 203410 1.36
40 2002 2798 48 242258 1.62
60 2002 3065 57 251327 1.68
LSD by Year 5332* 17.04* 227009 ns 1.51 ns
LSD by Treatment 2652 ns 92.90 ns 133201 ns 0.88 ns
Year Yield per
Acre Means
Capsaicin per
Acre Means
Scoville Heat
Units Means
Capsaicin Means
2001 14278 182.87 191849 1.28
2002 3287 53.45 232332 1.55
N rate Yield per
Acre Means
per Acre Means
Scoville Heat
Units Means
Capsaicin Means
20 9622 121.7 193752 1.29
40 8732 116.54 216002 1.44
60 7994 116.23 226518 1.51

Table 2. Devil’s Tongue plant population as influenced by in row spacing.

Spacing Total Yield
per Acre (lbs)
Heat Units
per Acre
12″ 9496 279647 1.86 177
15″ 8581 249821 1.67 143
18″ 7732 256419 1.71 132
24″ 11053 241171 1.61 178
30″ 10585 237262 1.58 167
LSD 5500 ns 201500 ns 1.34 ns

Mechanical Harvesting: Weeds, particularly morning glory, caused significant difficulty for the Boese pepper harvester.

On-Farm Trials: Yields at grower locations were very low due to a severe infection of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).


The super-hot ‘Devil’s Tongue’ pepper continues to demonstrate potential as an alternative crop for North Carolina. If disease pressure is limited or TSWV can be controlled, this crop can be economically produced in eastern NC. Growers have the technology and management skills necessary for successful production, and mechanical harvesting is feasible if weeds are controlled. The quality of the peppers produced was found to be excellent for industrial purposes.

Acknowledgments: We wish to thank Keith Tyson and Tony Italia for technical assistance and Sandy Barnes and Randy Herring and the staff at the Cunningham Center, Kinston, for their assistance with the research plots. Finally, we appreciate the work of grower cooperators who were willing to try a new crop.