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Pimenta dioica (L.) Merrill

Pimenta dioica (L.) Merrill

Family

Myrtaceae

Synonyms

Myrtus pimenta L., Myrtus dioica L., Pimenta officinalis Lindley.

Vernacular Names

English Pimento, Jamaica pepper.
American Allspice.
French Piment des anglais, toute-épice.

Geographical Distributions

The exact origin of Pimenta dioica is not known but it is indigenous to the West Indies (Jamaica, Cuba) and Central America (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras). It is used as a spice in the Caribbean Islands was discovered by the Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. Most P. dioica is now cultivated or collected from the wild in the region of its natural distribution, most abundantly in Jamaica, and in surrounding areas where it also has been introduced, e.g. Haiti, Costa Rica, Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Brazil. Elsewhere in the tropics, e.g. in India, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia (Penang), Singapore and Indonesia (Java, Sumatra), cultivation of P. dioica has been tried but never became successful.

Description

P. dioica is a small dioecious evergreen tree that can reach up to 7-10(-15) m tall and profusely branched where the young shoots are four-angled. The bark is smooth and shiny, pale silvery brown and shedding in long strips. The wood is hard, close-grained, heavy, strong, durable and pink.

The leaves are borne in clusters at the end of branches. They are arranged oppositely, simple, thinly coriaceous, punctate with pellucid glands and aromatic when crushed. The petiole is 1-1.5 cm long. The blade is elliptical to elliptical-oblong, measuring 6-15 cm x 3-6 cm, tapered at the base, entire at the margin, rounded at the apex, dark green above, pale green beneath and with pinnate venation.

The inflorescence is axillary, compound, paniculate, with repeatedly branched, measures 5-15 cm long and composed of many-flowered cymes. The flowers are structurally bisexual but functionally male or female, measuring 8-10 mm in diametre, white and aromatic. The pedicel is about 1 cm long, pale green and pubescent. The sepal is tubular, shortly prolonged tube above the ovary, with 4 lobes, rounded, measures 1.5-2 mm long, creamy-white, wide-spreading at anthesis and persistent in fruit. There are 4 petals which are reflexed, rounded, measure 3-4 mm long, white and early fall. The stamens are free which numerous, 80-100 in functionally male trees and 40-50 in functionally female ones. They are about 5 mm long, with white filaments, slender, with cream-coloured anthers, basifixed, bilocular and dehisced by the longitudinal slits. The ovary is inferior, 2-celled and usually with one ovule in each cell. The style is about 5 mm long, white, pubescent and with a yellow stigma.

The fruit is nearly a spherical berry, measuring 4-6 mm in diametre, green when unripe, turns glossy purple to black on ripening and with sweet pulpy flesh. The dried unripe fruits are dark brown and rough. There are usually 2 seeds and with a spirally coiled embryo.

Ecology / Cultivation

The natural habitat of P. dioica in Jamaica is limestone forest. The optimum average annual rainfall is 1500-1600 mm, but a range of 1000-2500 mm annual rainfall is acceptable, with only a few months with less than 100 mm rain. The mean annual temperatures range is from 18-24°C, with a minimum of 15°C and a maximum of 32°C. It grows best on well-drained loamy limestone soils with a pH of 6.3-8.0, from sea level up to 1000 m altitude, but it does best below 300 m altitude.

Line Drawing / Photograph

P._dioica

References

  1. Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 13: Spices.

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