Common Names of Piper Species

Piper nigrum is commonly known as Black Pepper in English; Pilpil in Persian; Poivre in French; Schwartze in German; Filfiluswud or Fil-fila-siah in Arabic; Maricham, Maricha, Hapusha, Krishnam, Ooshnam or Valliyam in Sanskrit; Gulmirch or Kalimirch in Hindi; Gol-mirich or Golmorich in Punjabi; Martz in Kashmiri; Vellajung in Bengali; Kalomirich in Gujarati; KaaleMeere in Marathi; Miire in Konkani; Jalook in Assamese; Miriyalu in Telugu; Gurumusi in Manipuri; Golamaricha in Oriya; Kara mirch in Sindhi; Milagu in Tamil; Kuru-mulaka or Kuru-milagu in Malayalam; and Filfil Siyah or Kalimirich in Urdu (Dhanalakshmi et al. 2017).

Distribution of Piper Species

The genus Piper is of great commercial and economic importance in pharmaceutical and food industries. It belongs to the family Piperaceae which consists of mainly herbs (terrestrial and epiphytes), shrubs, vines or trees having six genera with 3,000 species containing alkaloids and aromatic volatile oils. Piperaceae family is distributed in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. In terms of phylogenetic position, Piperaceae is among the diverse assemblage of dicots termed “paleoherbs,” and the plants resemble monocots in certain vegetative features such as adaxial prophyll and scattered vascular bundles (Chopra and Vishwakarma 2018). The most common genera are Piper and Peperomia having 1,000 and 700 species, respectively. Piper is one of the most diversified genera within the family Piperaceae, and it occupies a basal lineage position in the angiosperm group. Piper includes bushes and herbs that can be found in humid or wet places all around the world, especially in tropical regions of both the hemispheres. Piper has the largest number of species found in America (700 species), followed by Southern Asia (300 species), South Pacific (140 species) and Africa (15 species). The genus Piper is one of the largest genera of basal angiosperms (TPL 2019) and distributed from sea level to the high ranges of Andes and sub-Himalayan ranges (Royle 1893). It grows wild in the tropical rainforests of India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Timor (Chopra and Vishwakarma 2018) (Figure 1.1). In India, 110 species of Piper are reported from different regions. The two most important centers of origin of the genus Piper in India are the Trans-Gangetic belts and the South Deccan (Hooker 1886; (Purseglove et al. 1981). The foothills of the Western Ghats are

Worldwide distribution of genus Piper

FIGURE 1.1 Worldwide distribution of genus Piper.

believed to be the center of origin of P. nigrum L., one of the most important medicinal plants in Indian system of medicine. However, P. nigrum and a diversity of other Piper species are also recorded from Assam, Khasi hills, Mikir hills, lower hills of West Bengal, evergreen forest of the Western Ghats from Konkan to Kerala and Nicobar Islands (Chopra and Vishwakarma 2018).

The distribution patterns of Piper species range from locally endemic to widespread. Several species are restricted to a specific center of diversity, whereas some others occur throughout the Neotropics or the Paleotropics (Chopra and Vishwakarma 2018). Most of the Piper species are distributed throughout the tropical regions of the earth as shrubs, herbs and lianas, usually growing in the understory of tropical lowland wet forests. Piper species as important structural components of the forest understory in the Neotropic belts. In his study on Ayurveda, the Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, referred to P. longum for the first time and described it as a medicinal herb rather than spice. The history of black pepper is often confused with that of long pepper, although Theophrastus distinguished the two in the first work of botany more than 2,000 years ago. P. longum grows in the western slopes of the Western Ghats of India and is also cultivated in Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The distributional details of Piper species from different countries are given in Table 1.1.

In India, the Piper distribution is mainly in the Eastern Himalayas and the Southern Deccan. More than 100 species of Piper are known, and out of them, 65 species are reported from the northeast region only. The Western Ghats are famous for P. nigrum L. (black pepper). In 1678, Hendrich Van Rheede described the five types of wild varieties of peppers in his book

4 Phytochemistry of Plants of Genus Piper

TABLE 1.1 Distribution and IUCN Status of Piper Species







P. argyrophyllum Miq.

Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala

India, Sri Lanka


P. attenuatum Buch.-Ham. ex Miq.

Assam, Meghalaya, Kerala, Tamil Nadu

India, China


P. divaricatum G. Mey.

Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu

Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia; Native to South America


P. galeatum (Miq.) C. DC.

Kerala, Tamil Nadu



P. hymenophyllum (Miq.) Wight

Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu

French Guiana


P. longum L.

Assam (cultivated), Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh





P. mullesua Buch.-Ham. ex D.Don



China, Nepal, Burma


P. nigrum L.

Assam, Meghalaya Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka

Brazil, China, Nepal


P. retrofractum Vahl






P. umbellatum L.

Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala

Brazil, China, Philippines


Note: COL-listed in Catalogue of Life.

Hortus Indicus Malabaricus. In 1753, Linnaeus in his book Species Plantarum described 17 species from India. Again in 1832, Roxburgh reported seven species of Piper from the Indian Peninsula. Seven wild species of Piper were reported by Miquel in 1848. In 1869, De Candolle described 52 species of Piper from India in his monograph. The first and major work on Piper and its species was described by Hooker in 1886 in his famous book Flora of British

India, in which he reported forty-five species under six categories, namely, Chavica (Miq.) Hook, f., Cubeba (Raf.) Hook, f., Eupiper C. DC., Heckeria Benth. et. Hook, f., Muldera (Miq.) Benth. et. Hook. f. and Pseudochavica Hook, f and also reported the most difficult genera to Piper. Floristic studies have been carried out by various botanists in different parts of India such as the work reported by De Candolle in 1912, 1914 and 1923 from Manipur, Sikkim, Meghalaya and West Bengal; Burkill in 1924-1925 from Arunachal Pradesh; Gamble in 1925 from Western Ghats; from Assam; Deb in 1961 and 1983 from Manipur and Tripura; from Karnataka; Grierson and Long in 1984 from Sikkim and Bhutan; and Ravindran et al. in 1987 from Kerala. Floristic studies on Piper are mainly from the Western Ghats of South India. In his Flora of Presidency of Madras, Gamble (1925) reported taxonomic keys to 13 species of Piper described the taxonomic and biosystematic studies on Piper from the Western Ghats of South India. Ravindran reported taxonomic keys for Piper species from the Western Ghats in 1996, in which he has divided the genus into two sections: “Pippali” and “Maricha” on the basis of their inflorescence characteristics like spikes, erect and pendant. The names were taken from Sanskrit corresponding to long pepper and black pepper, respectively. Piper species of South India are important from the economic point of view as the major share of its cultivation is from South India. Kerala is famous for the cultivation of Piper species, especially black pepper, due to the weather and climatic conditions of the moist deciduous semi-evergreen and evergreen forests of the Western Ghats. Kerala contributes almost 97% of India’s total pepper production. Sixteen species of the genus are from South India, and eight species are endemic to the Western Ghats. Hooker in 1886 in his book named Flora of British India reported 33 species in which 20 species were from Northeast India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. De Candolle in 1912, 1914 and 1923 reported 40 species from Northeast India. Adding to Hooker’s record, the total number of species reported from this region is 60.

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