Botanical Characteristics Of Black Pepper

By Agropedia on 18 Apr 2016 | read

Submitted by Spicepedia 


Domain: Eukarya

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum (Division): Magnoliophyta

Class: Magnoliopsida

Order: Piperales

Family: Piperaceae

Genus: Piper

Species: Piper nigrum

Black pepper is a perennial, climbing vine.  Black pepper is grown in soil that is rich in organic matter. Pepper plants are mostly cultivated in India and Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. due to their tropical weather.

Morphological characters

Plant height and branching pattern

Black pepper is a perennial, woody climber, growing up to 10 m or more in height. When the height is restricted, the mature vine has a bushy appearance and is about 4.0 m in height. Black pepper vines develop three types of aerial shoots, namely (a) primary stem with long internodes, with adventitious roots which cling to the standards. These clinging roots help the plant to climb over the support trees  (b) runner shoots which originate from the base of the vine and have long internodes which strike roots at each node and (c) fruit bearing lateral branches (without roots).

Leaf length and width

Leaves are arranged alternately on the stems. They are generally almond shaped tapering towards the tip. They are dark green and shiny above but paler green below. Leaf characters help in cultivar identification in black pepper. The leaf size and shape on the emerging orthotropic shoots and runners differ from normal leaves found in lateral fruiting branches. The leaf angle of the lateral leaves also varies among the cultivars/varieties. The leaf angle should be more at the bottom compared to top which helps in filtering of more light to the bottom canopy.

Petiole length

Compared to lateral shoots, leaf petiole length is higher in runner shoots. To harvest maximum light, varieties with lower leaf petiole length at the top and increased petiole length at the bottom both in runner as well as lateral branches is ideal.


Most of the black pepper cultivars are monoecious and have bisexual flowers. Flowers grow in clusters along flowering stalks called spikes. Flower colour is whitish to yellow-green. A single spike bears about 50 to 150 flowers. High percent of bisexual flowers are essential for good fruit set.


In black pepper, spike may be straight or curved. Spike length varies among cultivars. In majority of the cultivars, the spike length is almost the same as leaf length. The growing environment influences spike length.


Black pepper is grown for its spicy and aromatic fruit. The flowers develop into round, berry-like fruits. There may be 50-60 fruits on each spike each with a single seed. Berries grow to a diameter of 4 to 6 mm. Fruits are picked when green and immature to produce green pepper; when fully grown but still green and shiny to produce black pepper; and when slightly riper to produce white pepper (for which the fruits are also soaked to remove the fleshy outer layer).

Roots and root spread

The base of the mature stem bears about 10-20 main adventitious roots and an extensive mass of surface feeding roots. The adventitious roots penetrate to a depth of 1-2 m. and the surface feeding roots spreads to a depth of up to 60 cm. The lateral spread of roots is mostly up to 60 cm from the base of the stem.                                                                     


Anandaraj M.  Perennial Spice Crops- Black pepper, Cinnamon, Clove and Nutmeg. Encyclopedia of Life support systems. Purseglove J W, Brown E G, Green C L & Robbins S R J (1981). Pepper. In: Spices. Vol.1 Longman, London (pp. 10-99). Ravindran P N, Balachandran I & Chempakam B (2000). End uses of pepper- Black pepper (Piper nigrum L.). Harwood Academic Publications, Amsterdam, pp. 467-479. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (2005). Plant Cultures – black pepper. The International Pepper Community (2013). Market Review 2012.