A Pueblo chile pepper, but rebooted: Meet the Pueblo Primrose

Heather Willard
The Pueblo Chieftain
The Pueblo Primrose was produced by Mike Bartolo. The pepper took 13 years to cultivate and breed.

The Pueblo chile's sizzling legacy in Southern Colorado is far-reaching, and now residents can grow a piece of it themselves.

The annual crop provides a rhythm to Pueblo's agriculture that many city residents watch as closely as farmers, waiting for a chance to nab their own bushel of freshly roasted Pueblo Green Chiles.

It also sparked the creation of the annual Chile and Frijole Festival, which is entering its 26th year.

The Colorado State Fair only uses chiles from the Pueblo Chile Grower's Association, and the fruit's reputation has turned it into a local legend. The chile peppers were first bred in the Arkansas River Valley by a man named Harry Mosco. The main variety of Pueblo chile is actually the Mosco strain of pepper, named after the man who first left his pepper seeds behind for his family.

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Mike Bartolo, a vegetable crop specialist with Colorado State University, helped breed the Mosco chile into a defined strain to be used for roasting and in recipes. It's a little larger than other strains of the same family, and has a significantly thicker outer wall. This makes it perfect for roasting, as the pepper is less likely to split and spill the spicy juices or allow the juice evaporate through cooking.

The Pueblo Chile is even named the official chile used for the Colorado State Fair, among other accolades.

However, there's now an opportunity for residents to grow chiles in their front garden, in a pot or other ornamental space, thanks to the creation of the Pueblo Primrose. This is not a chile meant for roasting or even eating, but instead was meant to decorate the homes of Pueblo residents and beyond.

Pueblo Primrose plants are available at various locations throughout Pueblo. The plant was created by Mike Bartolo and is designed for decorative purposes. The pepper is described as 'very hot.'

Researchers let nature guide the new Pueblo plant

The ornamental hot chile pepper was developed by researchers at the Arkansas Valley research station in Southern Colorado, near Rocky Ford, through Colorado State University.

It took about 13 years to develop the breed, and this is the first season the plant has been available to the general public. 

The plant grows about 12-16 inches tall and produces 1.5-inch diameter fruits that begin in a cream color and gradually turn yellow, orange and then red during maturation. However, as pretty as the fruit may be, researchers and breeders warn that the smaller the pepper, the hotter its bite.

Bartolo works in the CSU-Pueblo college of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, focusing on vegetable crops. He was the one to develop the Pueblo Primrose, which he noted, despite its Pueblo name, is not actually a decedent of the most well-known Pueblo chile variety, the Mosco chile.

Instead, it's a different strain bred out of a different batch of seeds that he saw displaying different traits than their companions. He didn't have a goal for the plants when he first started selecting for the decorative plant, but "let nature steer the way."

"When I see a trait that's interesting I start working with (the plants) and playing with the trait, but you just kind of look and see and work on it and let nature guide," Bartolo said. "Most people don't think of peppers for ornamental purposes."

While edible, the peppers are not meant for consumption. Bartolo said the small, beautiful fruit is "pretty hot," and "very pungent."

"It's a relatively small fruit, and has more of a visual appearance," he said.

The plant was named a primrose due to its elegant and delicate growth pattern. Bartolo said there were a few plant names in the running — poppy, petunia — but primrose won out.

Pueblo was added to help give the plant name a "sense of place," and thus the Pueblo Primrose was named.

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The Pueblo Primrose aims to garner attention and support

The 13-year cultivation period was used to create a solid strain and seed stock to be able to make the plant available to the community. Bartolo said he ultimately released the plant this year after he was able to link up with the Pueblo Food Project and the Palmer Land Conservancy.

Both nonprofits focus on conservation efforts: the Palmer Land Conservancy focuses conservation efforts on the environment, and the Pueblo Food Project focuses on conservation and promotion of a local food ecosystem. As an agricultural researcher, Bartolo is seeking to bring attention to the food system as a whole, and how the local ecosystem is strained and even devastated by the new real estate developments in Pueblo and surrounding areas.

"It's a serious problem, so much of our prime agricultural land has been lost to development or to water sales," Bartolo said. "I'm hoping this brings some recognition and a little bit of knowledge of what's going on in the Palmer Conservancy and the Food Project."

He advocated for residents to support the local food system by buying local plants and locally grown food items.

Several retail outlets have agreed to carry the plant. Those retailers are: DiSanti Farms Greenhouse, 29114 South Road; Peppers and Petals, 2115 Santa Fe Drive; Milberger Farms, 28570 U.S. Highway 50 Business; and Springside Cheese Shop, 517 W. Fifth St.

Funds from the sale of the plants will go toward the Pueblo Food Project and the Colorado Master Gardener program at the Pueblo County Extension office. 

Chieftain reporter Heather Willard can be reached via email at hwillard@gannett.com or on Twitter: @HeatherDWrites.