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Piperaceae

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Piperaceae  Giseke 1792

The Piperaceae is a family of 5 genera and 1400 species of herbs with both succulent and non-succulent members. The genus Peperomia is probably the most familiar, as Peperomias are widely grown as houseplants.
 
The genus Piper is not of great horticultural merit but includes plants that are the source of economically important spices and mild narcotics. The berries of the climbing vine P. nigrum are made into black pepper.
 
The Pepper Family Piperaceae does not include bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) and chilli peppers. These belong to the Nightshade Family (Solanaceae).

 
Peperomia - Ruiz & Pavón (1794)

About a thousand species of Peperomias have been described, mainly from South America although a few (17) are found in Africa. Many of these plants are perennial epiphytes growing on rotten logs and they have thick stems and fleshy leaves, some with leaf windows. Most Peperomias have tiny flowers which are packed into a characteristic greenish or brown conical spike like an inverted catkin. A few species have more attractive flowers such as the white, scented clusters of spikes produced by P. fraseri from Ecuador. (upper right)

Many species are non-succulent and a few of these (e.g. P. caperata) are popular house plants. A variety of cultivars of P. caperata (lower right) with attractively-marked foliage are widely available through the horticultural trade, and a variety of compact Peperomias can sometimes be found among selections of plants intended for bottle gardens.
 
The succulent Peperomia species are not as commonly available as they deserve to be, even from specialist nurseries. This probably reflects their low profile in cactus and succulent society shows and plant sales. They include several species which form tubers. Although these are said to be difficult in cultivation this is also true of many widely grown succulent plants. Peperomia campylotropa is a deciduous tuber-forming plant from the cooler regions of Mexico. After flowering, the aerial growth dies away and the tuber can survive long periods of drought. P. macrorhiza from Peru and P. monticola from Mexico form a large caudex and could be of interest to collectors of caudiciform plants.
 
Cultivation: Peperomias are best cultivated in a light, well drained compost containing plenty of humus and do well in shallow containers. Coming from tropical rain-forest habitats, they love warm humid conditions and most need a minimum temperature of 50 - 55°F. However, the stems and foliage can be prone to rotting and Peperomias should be watered sparingly from below (especially in winter) using soft water, avoiding wetting the crown of the plant. In warm climates Peperomias can be grown outside as ground cover or as epiphytes on tree trunks, but beware of slugs which enjoy the fleshy foliage.
 
Apart from a tendecy to rot if over-watered, Peperomias also can suffer from ringspot which is manifested as distorted foliage with chlorotic or necrotic rings on the leaves. This disease may be caused by cucumber mosaic virus and the only treatment is to destroy infected material.

Peperomias may be propagated from leaf or tip cuttings, although the variegated and succulent species grow mainly from tip cuttings.

peperomia fraseri
Peperomia fraseri
peperomia caperata variegata
Peperomia caperata variegata

Please note that "The Peperomia and Exotic Plant Society" has been officially dissolved.

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Peperomia Gallery
click on thumbnails for a larger image.

   
peperomia acuminata peperomia aurocarpa peperomia caperata luna red peperomia caperata variegata
P. acuminata P. aurocarpa P. caperata
cv. luna red
P. caperata variegata
peperomia clusifolia tricolour peperomia clusifolia variegata peperomia dolabriformis peperomia fraseri peperomia species
P. clusifolia var. tricolour P. clusifolia variegata P. dolabriformis P. fraseri Peperomia sp.
peperomia griseoargentea peperomia hoffmanii peperomia obtusifolia peperomia prostrata
P. griseoargentea P. hoffmanii P. obtusifolia P. prostrata
peperomia reticulata peperomia reticulata peperomia rubella peperomia trinervula
Peperomia reticulata P. rubella P. trinervula
Above: photographs by RJ Hodgkiss.
 
peperomia ferreyrae peperomia graveolens peperomia nivalis
P. ferreyrae P. graveolens P. nivalis
Above: grown and photographed by Robert Swan.
 Piper (Linnaeus) - pepper

The genus Piper includes over 1000 species of diverse shrubby plants and climbing vines from tropical rainforests and cloud forests of Africa, S. America, and South-East Asia. Peppers typically grow as understory plants and may be very common in some places. Some species e.g. Piper cenocladum form mutualistic relationships with ants.

Several Piper species are of great economic importance and cultivated to produce culinary spices or narcotics. The climbing vine P. nigrum (Right) is probably the most important source of black pepper, but the berries of several other species can also be ground into pepper. The inflorescence is a vermiform spike of tiny florets, followed by a cluster of green berries ripening through red to almost black.
The single seed within the berry (peppercorn) is the source of white pepper. Black pepper is made from the whole green berries, briefly cooked, dried and ground. Green pepper is made from freeze dried or pickled, unripe berries. Peppercorns have been used in cooking for thousands of years and their remains are found during excavation of Neolithic habitations. The pungent nature of pepper is due to the alkaloid piperine and its isomer chavicine.

piper nigrum
Piper nigrum
piper nigrum
inflorescence

Prior to discovery of the New World, Piper longum (Indian Long Pepper) provided a similar spice to black pepper. Roots of P. methysticum are ground to make Kava, a narcotic beverage.
Betel nuts and leaves from P. betle are chewed throughout Asia. A cocktail of toxic substances in the nuts causes oral and oesophageal cancer in heavy users, but doubtless discourages herbivores.
 
Piper species often grown in frost-free gardens as climbing foliage plants or shrubs. P. ornatum has attractively patterned leaves.

peppercorns
peppercorns