Botany And Crop Improvement Of Black Pepper


Indian Institute of Spices Research, Kozhikode-673012, Kerala India


The genus Piper was established by Linnaeus (1753) in his Species Plantarum in which he recognised 17 species in the Pipe family, all of which were included in the same genus. The genus name Piper was derived, probably from the Greek name for black pepper, Peperi and according to Rosengarten (1973) most European names for black pepper were derived from the Sanskrit root Pippali, the name for long pepper (Piper longum). The second genus in the family, Peperomia, was introduced in 1794 by Ruiz and Pavon. The family name Piperaceae was first used by L.C.Rich in Humboldt, Bonpland and Kunth's Nova Genera et Species Plantarum in 1815 (Yuncker 1958). In the years that followed a number of additional genera, mostly segregates from Piper were described by Sprengel, Kunth, Miquel and others. Among the early studies the important ones were those of Ruiz and Pavon (1798) on flora of Peru and Chile; Humboldt, Bonpland and Kunth (1815) based on their collections from South America and that of Blume (1826) on East Indian species. Kunth (1839) published an important paper on 136 Latin American species mainly on Piper and segregate genera. However the first monographic study was that of F.A.W Miquel. His classic, Systema Piperacearum (1843), included all the species known in the family at that time. Miquel subdivided Piperaceae into two tribes Pipereae and Peperomeae. The former consisted of 15 genera and 304 species and the latter 5 genera and 209 species. In 1869 De Candolle monographed the family in its entirety for the Prodromus. In this he recognized more than 1000 species in the two genera, Piper and Peperomia. De Candolle continued to work on Piperaceae till his death in 1918. The key to the family prepared by him was published posthumously in 1923, under the name "Piperacearum Clavis Analytica". In this work keys were provided for over 3000 species and varieties. William Trelease took up studies on Piperaceae from where De Condolle left. He made extensive collections of American Piperaceae which led to the revision of the Piperaceae of the Northern South America by Trelease and Yuncker (1950). Thus Miquel, De Candolle and Trelease were mainly responsible for the systematics of Piperaceae for more than a century.


The earliest record of the description of Piper of Indian subcontinent was by Rheede (1678). In his Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, the first printed document on plants of the Malabar Coast of India, he described five types of wild peppers including black pepper and long pepper. Linnaeaus (1753) included 17 species from India in his Species Plantarum. Roxburgh (1832) described seven species of Piper from Indian Peninsula. Miquel (1848) included seven wild species from India in his monograph on Piper. Wight (1853) in his Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis, illustrated 16 species, 15 of which were from Indian Peninsula. De Candolle (1869) included 52 species from India in his monographic work.

The first major study on the Piper spp. from Indian subcontinent was that of Hooker (1886) in his Flora of British India. Hooker divided the genus into six sections, namely: Muldera, Cubeba, Chavica, Pseudochavica, Eupiper and Heckeria. Black pepper is included in the section Eupiper. Floristic studies carried out at the centre of origin and diversity, namely the Western Ghats of Southern India, are of great significance because all the species closely related to pepper are present there and most of them are endemic to the region. Rama Rao (1914) was the first to enumerate the Piper species occurring in the Southern Western Ghats. He listed 12 species but without any taxonomic keys. The most authoritative floristic study of the Western Ghats was that of Gamble (1925) in his Flora of Presidency of Madras, in which the following species together with taxonomic keys were given: P. argyrophyllum, P. attenuatum, P. barberi, P. brachystachyum, P. galeatum, P. hapnium, P. hookeri, P. hymenophyllum, P. longum, P. nigrum, P. schmidtii, P. trichostachyon and P. wightii. After the publication of Gamble's flora, practically there was no addition to the list of Piper spp. till the 1980s. In 1981 Rahiman described a new species, P. bababudani, from the Bababudin hills of Karnataka, but this was never published validly. Ravindran et al. (1987) reported a new species, P. silentvalleyensis, the only bisexual wild species reported from Western Ghats. The other new reports were P. pseudonigrum (Velayudhan and Amalraj 1992) and P. sugandhi (Nirmal Babu et al. 1993). Rahiman et al. (1979, 1981) and Ravindran (1990, 1991, 1992a, 1994 b, 1996) carried out taxonomic and biosystematic studies on Piper taxa occurring in the Western Ghats of South India.

Ravindran (1991) suggested a taxonomic key for the Piper species occurring in Western Ghats. He subdivided the genus into two sections—Pippali and Maricha-based on the orientation of spikes, erect or pendent, these names were derived from the Sanskrit names for the type species, long pepper and black pepper respectively. Brief descriptions of the species closely related to pepper are given below.

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