Jean Andrews, a scientist, gardener, explorer, artist and cook who was known as "the Pepper Lady," died Thursday in her home. She was 86.

The best-selling Texas author of books on sea shells, bluebonnets and hot peppers, Andrews was a glamorous character who popularized the cultivation and use of capsicums.

"She pioneered the field just as peppers were getting hot internationally," said former American-Statesman food editor Kitty Crider. "And she was fearless."

"She was colorful — oh my goodness she was colorful," said Theresa May, director of the University of Texas Press, which sold more than 40,000 copies of her books on shells and chile peppers.

May recalled a time when a UT Press employee visited Andrews, only to find road kill lined up in front of her house.

"She was doing some kind of experiment," May said. "She was so intrepid and adventurous. And she had a voracious intellect."

A fifth-generation Texan, Andrews, known as "Dr. Jean" at the UT School of Human Ecology, where she was a distinguished alumna , was born in Kingsville in 1923. After graduating from UT and Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), she earned a doctorate from the University of North Texas in 1976.

The world, however, was her classroom. She traveled to China, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran and Oman. She camped in Ethiopia, rode a donkey through China, traveled with the Bedouin.

One of her memorable phrases: "Well, I can't stand to have anything if I don't know all about it, and one thing led to another."

Andrews began collecting sea shells in 1959 and learned to scuba dive, then explored the waters of the Philippines, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Costa Rica, Panama, the Canary Islands and the Red Sea. Her field guides on the shells of the Texas and Florida coasts became instant classics.

Andrews taught herself botany and cultivated varieties of chiles. Her 1984 book, "Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums," illustrated with her own 32 color plates, became a must-have for any Texas kitchen. Commercial pepper planters, cooks and botanists sought out her expertise.

The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History holds her writings and the Texas Memorial Museum keeps her collection of sea shells. Andrews served on the advisory boards of both the School of Human Ecology and the College of Natural Sciences.

An embroiderer since childhood, Andrews helped establish an artisan cooperative in Costa Rica for women to create and export fabrics.

Yet it was Andrews' audacious spirit, her discursive dinners and her house packed with exotic collections that made her an Austin icon.

"We saw her at Christmas and she was fiery and humorous as always," said former restaurant owner Michael Dyer.

A group of male admirers from the community created, in her honor, the Order of the Oosics, named for the fossilized male reproductive bones that Andrews collected.

"That's so incredibly Jean," said Meghan Mullaney, special projects writer for the School of Human Ecology, about the club and its inspiration.

"She was the source for anyone wanting to know about peppers," Crider said. "She really was 'the Pepper Lady.'"

Andrews is survived by her son, Robert F. Wasson of Middleton, R.I., and was predeceased by her daughter, Jean Andrews Wasson. Funeral arrangements are pending.