Piper ornatum: Pepper

It is difficult to select from the 700 or so species of peppers the one most suitable for one’s home, for these woody climbers or shrubs are among the loveliest of foliage plants, be they variegated species, ones with glossy green leaves or ones with a lovely habit of growth.

The pepper is from Celebes and is one of the best-known of foliage plants. It is a climber with a weak stem and clinging rootlets that grow from some of the nodes. The leaves have crimson markings in the juvenile form; these later fade and the patches turn an ashy greyish-pink. The similar P. porphyrophyllum from Indonesia has leaves that are velvety olive green with fine rosy-crimson markings on the upper surface and a deep purple on the underside.

Green-leaved species are equally popular, be it the common Piper nigrum from which black pepper commonly used in cooking is obtained, or the well-known P. betle whose leaf is chewed along with lime and betel nut (the fruit of a palm of the genus Areca) by some south-east Asian peoples. Unlike the variegated species, these are less demanding, both as to heat and moisture requirements.

Many species, of course, are not climbers but upright shrubs, for example P. bicolor (syn. P. mag-nificum) with large elliptical leaves up to 25 cm (10 in) long coloured dark green with a marked metallic sheen on the upper side; and P. auritum from Mexico, an erect, thickly branched shrub with heart-shaped leaves about 20 cm (8 in) long and erect whitish-green flower spikes up to 15 cm (6 in) long.

Variegated peppers are generally used in plant-cases or in other places where the temperature and humidity can be kept more or less constant. Green-leaved species may also be used for room decoration in centrally-heated homes. A suitable growing medium is a mixture of peat, sand and loam.

Propagation is by tip cuttings inserted in a peat and sand compost in a propagator under glass.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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