Hot Peppers and Seed Dispersals
Name: Paul G.
If the purpose of a fruit is to be eaten for seed
dispersal, why are the fruit of chilli plants so hot as to make them
inedible to a number of organisms? Doesn't this decrease the
effectiveness of the seed's dispersal?
Seeds do not always have to be digested to be dispersed. Plants also contain
hormones that cause "rotting" when they are separated for the parent plant.
So as the fruit decays, the seeds are dispersed. The fact that they are not
palatable also can be protective-they don't get eaten before the seeds are
The seeds of the chili pepper are damaged in the digestive tracts of most
mammals. However, they tend to pass through birds intact. Not
coincidentally, the "heat" of the chili fruit is irritating to mammals, but
apparently not to birds.
So, the heat acts as a protectant for the seed, and increases its chances of
Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois
The following looks helpful:
Anthony R. Brach,
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Update: June 2012