An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Rough-leaved Pepper, PIPER AMALAGO

from the November 29, 2009 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Above you see another shrub, usually about eight feet tall, flowering now because it flowers throughout the year. It's one of many species of the tropical Black Pepper Family, the Piperaceae, in which also belong the Peperomias often grown indoors in pots up North. In English-speaking Jamaica they call the pictured species Rough-leaved Pepper. It's PIPER AMALAGO. In Spanish, members of the genus Piper are usually referred to collectively as Cordoncillos, which means "little strings."

The slender, erect items arising vertically from the stems, the "little strings," are spikes covered by hundreds of individual, very tiny, simple flowers. You can see the spikes in two stages of development below:

Rough-leaved Pepper, PIPER AMALAGO, flowers

In that picture the spike at the left is covered with splitting-open, baglike male anthers releasing pollen, while the spike at the right is covered with immature fruits, each fruit developing from a different flower.

Mature fruits only grow to the size of mustard seeds, but when dried and ground they taste just like black pepper. Black pepper is made from peppercorns from the topical Asian Piper species, Piper nigrum, so our Piper amalago has every right to taste like black pepper. In Jamaica sometimes our species still is used as a condiment, the fruits being picked when full grown but not completely mature, for if they mature on the plant they lose their pungency and get soft. Immature fruits, often harvested still attached to their stalks, are dried in the sun and then ground in mills.

Infusions of the leaves are said to alleviate colic and intestinal gas. The roots are used as a diuretic and to treat water retention.