Piper nigrum
Common Name: common pepper 
Type: Vine
Family: Piperaceae
Native Range: Southern India and Sri Lanka
Zone: 12 to 12
Height: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 15.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Yellowish-green
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

This pepper vine is a tropical plant that is best grown in tropical areas where temperatures typically range throughout the year from 55-90 F. It is best grown in sun dappled areas or areas with bright indirect sun. It needs a support structure (e.g., wooden frame or prop tree). Outside of tropical areas, it may be grown in conservatories or greenhouses. It may also be grown in containers as a houseplant with an attached trellis or in a hanging basket. Containers may be taken outside for the warm summer months. Use a rich potting soil with good drainage. Mist foliage frequently. Indoor houseplants will not usually produce fruit. Houseplants are intolerant of winter temperatures below 50 degrees F.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Piper nigrum is a tropical plant that produces the popular black and white peppercorns and ground pepper of commerce that have been used for many years as culinary spices or seasonings. This species is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It has been used in Indian cooking since at least 2000 B. C. Today, it is commercially grown in a number of additional tropical areas including Malabar, Malacca, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Philippines, Japan and the West Indies. It is not grown commercially in the U.S. This is a woody stemmed perennial evergreen vine that typically grows to 10-15' tall and as wide, but may reach 30' tall in its native habitat. Ovate, cordate, palmately-veined, dark green leaves (to 5-7" long) appear at the nodes on stout but flexible climbing stems. Tiny, apetalous, yellowish-green florets bloom in summer on spikes to 4 1/2" long that grow outward from the leaf stem joint. Florets are hermaphrodite but sometimes unisexual. Florets are followed by spherical fruits that ripen to red. They are harvested just as the first fruits begin to turn red (before fully ripe) and are then dried. Each fruit (peppercorn to 1/4" diameter) turns black after about three days of drying. Grinding the black peppercorns produces black pepper. White pepper is obtained when the fruits are allowed to turn red and fully ripen. The red outer covering is then removed and the remaining kernel ground. The best quality commercial pepper reportedly comes from Malabar. U.S. pepper supplies primarily come from Sumatra and Java. Spiciness of this pepper comes from piperine.

Genus name comes from the Latin name from the Greek word peperi, itself derived from an Indian name.

Specific epithet means black.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Susceptible to root rot, pepper weevil and pepper flea beetle. Watch for aphids on indoor plants.

Garden Uses

Commercially grown in tropical areas for pepper. Containers. Hanging baskets when plants are young.