Black pepper, Piper nigrum
, is a climbing perennial plant in the family Piperaceae which is grown for its fruits. The fruits are used to produce black, white and green peppercorns which are commonly used as a spice in cooking. Black pepper may be vining or have bushy, wooden stems. The plant has simple, alternating leaves which are oval in shape and produces clusters, or spikes, of 50 to 150 flowers. The fruits develop on the flower spike and are small spherical fruits which are green and ripen to red. Each stem can produce 20–30 spikes. Black pepper can grow to be 10 m (33 ft) in height but under cultivation it is usually restricted to 3-4 m (10–13 ft). It is a perennial plant which can live for over 30 years, with a commercial lifespan of 12–20 years. Black pepper may also be referred to as pepper or Madagascar pepper and is native to South and Southeast Asia.
Black pepper growing on a tree
Black pepper fruits and foliage
Black pepper spike
White, green and black peppercorns
Black pepper spikes
Black pepper plants are used to produce black, white and green pepper. Black pepper is the product of drying the fruit to produce the familiar black peppercorns. White pepper is produced by soaking the fruits in water for approximately a week to recover the seed from the decomposed fruit. Green pepper is produced by drying the unripe fruit in a way that retains the green colour. Green peppercorns are often conserved by pickling.
Black pepper is a tropical plant and does not tolerate frost. Plants will not tolerate temperatures below 12˚C (53.6˚F). The plants will grow best in wet, tropical climates at ambient temperatures between 25 and 30˚C (77-86˚F) in a deep, well-draining soil with a good capacity to retain water. The soil should be rich in organic matter with a pH between 5.5 and 6.0. The plants require an annual rainfall of approximately 2000 mm and will require additional irrigation in drier areas.
Black pepper can be propagated from dry seeds or, as is most common for commercial production, from cuttings or stolons of established plants. Cuttings are usually taken from the secondary runners of the plant and should possess one or two leaves. Cuttings are then rooted in a seedbed before transplanting when the plant has 4-7 new leaves. In cultivation, a trellis is used to support the plant. The trellis should be at least 4 m (13 ft) high. Black pepper should be planted using an 8 × 8 m (26 × 26 ft) spacing (i.e. 8 m between individual plants and 8 m between rows).
Anandaraj, M. & Sarma, Y. R. (1995). Diseases of Black pepper (Piper nigrum
L.) and their management. Journal of Spices and Aromatic Crops. 4 (1): 17-23. Available at: http://220.127.116.11:8080/dspace/bi...
. [Accessed 07 November 14]. Free to access
CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2008). Piper nigrum datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/41374
. [Accessed 07 November 14]. Paid subscription required
Nelson, S. C. & Cannon-Eger, K. T. (2011). Farm and forestry production and marketing profile for Black pepper (Piper nigrum
). In Elevitch, C. R. (ed.). Speciality crops for Pacific Island agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR). Available at: http://www.agroforestry.net/images/pd...
. [Accessed 07 November 14]. Free to access
Common Pests and Diseases
Small brown specks with yellow halos on leaves, spikes and berries; defoliation and spike shedding; cracks on berries
As anthracnose is primarily a disease that occurs during the rainy season, systemic fungicides are required to prevent chemicals leaching from the plant; 1% Bordeaux mixture can be applied during monsoon season; metalaxyl and fosetyl are also effective
Discoloration of vine at soil line; cankers on stem may spread upwards; leaves may wilt and drop from plant; numerous small black sclerota (fungal fruiting bodies) develop in affected tissues and can be used to diagnose the disease
Organic soil amendments such as the addition of manure or neemcake can be used to reduce levels of inocuum in the soil
Pepper lace bug
Adult pepper lace bug
Pepper lace bug nymph
Brown or lack discoloration on inflorescences inflorescence and young berries wilting and turning gray; high infestations can cause inflorescence to collapse; lace bugs are sucking insects, the adult is gray-black in color and has distinctive horn-like protrusions on its shoulders; nymphs are light brown in color with a row af dark bristles on each side
Small populations of the insect can be hand picked from plants and destroyed; insecticide application may be required to control high populations
Development of sooty mold on black pepper leaf
Striped mealybug infestation
Fruit spike damaged by mealybugs
striped mealybug (Ferrisia virgata)
Ants tending mealybugs
Close-up of striped mealybug
Poorly developed, stunted new growth; damaged fruits; yellowing leaves; insect excretes a stick substance called honeydew which promotes secondary growth of gray molds; insects are soft bodied and relatively immobile; femailes are covered in waxy white threads; often tended by ants.
Insects may be dislodged by spraying a strong jet of water on the plants; several applications of appropriate insecticides may be required to control heavy infestations.
Root rot (Foot rot)
Black water soaked lesions on leaves and/or stems during wet weather; symptoms usually develop on lower leaves which have been splashed by water; leaves wilt rapidly and drop from plant; entire vine is killed within a period of days to weeks
Avoid uneccessary tilling of soil which can be conducive to spreading the pathogen; a cover crop of grass can help prevent water splash on the plants and thus the sread of the fungi; amending the soil with neem cake suppresses the Phytophthora and provides nutrients to the vines; systemic fungicides such as metalaxyl and fosetyl can give some measure of control; efforts are being made to establish resistant verieties