Black pepper - plant profile
Pepper plants are climbers which grow to a height or length of 10 m or more. When its main stem is established, it grows lots of side shoots to create a bushy column.
|Image: A fruiting black pepper plant growing in Nagarhole Nature Reserve, Karnataka, India.|
The plants form short roots, called adventitious roots, which connect to surrounding supports.
Although black pepper is cultivated in many tropical regions, it is native to Kerala State in India where it still occurs wild in the mountains.
Leaves - arranged alternately on the stems. They are shaped like almonds and taper towards the tip. They are dark green and shiny above but paler green below.
Fruits - the flowers develop into round, berry-like fruits. There may be 50-60 fruits on each spike. They grow to a diameter of 4 to 6 mm, each containing a single seed. Fruits are green at first but they turn red as they ripen. These fruits are picked when either green or red to produce black and white pepper.
Other pepper plantsOther species exist that are also known as pepper or peppercorns and are used in a similar way to black pepper. Indian long pepper, Piper longum, is one example. It has a milder flavour than black pepper. It is native to Assam through to Myanmar, and is a cultivated crop in the drier regions of India.
Pink pepper is obtained from a plant called Schinus terebinthifolius, otherwise known as the Brazilian pepper tree. This plant grows as a tree and is in a different botanical family to black and long pepper. It is native to South and Central America. Its pinkish-red fruits often enter European markets where it is used as a black pepper-like flavouring.
Peppercorns should not be confused with chilli peppers from the Capsicum genus.