A tongue-smoking red chili may stay out of hot water thanks to a new botanical area in Arizona, the first in the U.S. set aside to protect wild relatives of domesticated crops. The botanical area — a four-square-mile parcel in the Coronado National Forest, 50 miles south of Tucson — was officially dedicated to the preservation of the red-hot chiltepine last month.
Photo by Jesús García.
For more than 8,000 years, wild pea-sized chiltepines have grown in the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and the southwestern U.S. Now cattle grazing and fire threaten to eliminate the northernmost population of the chiltepines, a genetically hardy strain that has survived in a harsh climate along Arizona’s mountainous southern fringe. “The chiltepines that grow here may contain the genes for disease and pest resistance, or drought and frost tolerance,” says the botanical area’s project director, Suzanne Nelson of Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Ariz.
Special protection for chiltepine habitat is critical, Nelson says, because the plants have never been successfully harvested for more than three years in cultiv... Read more