Black Pepper Plant
The black pepper plant (Piper nigrum) is a perennial woody vine growing to about 15’ tall on supporting trees, poles or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. Leaves are alternate, 2 to 5 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide. Flowers are small, on pendulous spikes ½ - 4 inches long at the leaf nodes. The spikes lengthen 3 to 6 inches as the fruit matures.
Black pepper is grown in moist, organic-rich soil with good drainage, not too dry or liable to flooding. It is propagated by cuttings about 20 inches long, tied to neighboring trees or climbing frames at distances of about six feet apart. Trees with rough bark are favored over those with smooth bark to help plants climb easier. Competing plants should be cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit good ventilation. Roots should be covered in compost and manure and the shoots should be trimmed twice a year. In dry soils, the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year and typically continue to bear fruit for seven years. Cuttings are usually made from cultivars, selected both for yield and quality of fruit.
A single stem will bear 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. Harvest begins as soon as one or two berries at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, before the fruit is mature, but when full grown and still hard. If allowed to ripen on the vine, the berries lose pungency and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected in bags or baskets and then spread out to dry in the sun. Then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes.