Adapted from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of August 17, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve,
QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

COWFOOT

At another spring we found the remarkable small tree seen below:

PIPER UMBELLATA, Cowfoot

That's PIPER UMBELLATA, at least in Jamaica called Cowfoot, and used there for colds, headaches, boils and tapeworms. I'm surprised I can't find a medicinal use for it here because its leaves possess a wonderful sarsaparilla smell. Also, usually anything that looks so strange is used medicinally.

Those white, fingerlike things are not the flowers, but rather spikes on which many hundreds of tiny, much- reduced flowers are crammed closely together. Each individual blossom consists of no more than a tiny scale, representing the calyx, 2-6 stamens, and a tiny ovary with just a single ovule, which will develop into the flower's one seed.

There may be up to 2000 species of tropical and subtropical Pipers. Back when I worked as a botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden I studied the Pipers of Panama. I had a list of about 110 of them just for that little country. My work area always smelled really good because several pipers emit sweet fragrances. Pipers are members of the Black Pepper Family, the Piperaceae. Peppercorns are the dried fruits of an Asian Piper.