Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. The fruit, known as a peppercorn when dried, is a small drupe approximately 5 millimetres (0.20 in) in diameter, dark red when fully mature, containing a single seed.Black pepper is a perennial climbing vine grown for its berries extensively used as spice and in medicine. India is a leading producer, consumer and exporter of black pepper in the world. During 2005-06, 17,563 tonnes of black pepper products worth Rs. 15,095 lakhs were exported to various countries accounting for 6.0 per cent of export earnings among spices. Black pepper is cultivated to a large extent in Kerala and Karnataka and to a limited extent in Tamil Nadu and other states. The crop is grown in about 2,46,000 hectares with a production of 69,000 tonnes annually. Kerala and Karnataka account for a major portion (92 per cent) of production of black pepper in the country.
Climate and soil
Black pepper is a plant of humid tropics requiring adequate rainfall and humidity. The hot and humid climate of sub mountainous tracts of Western Ghats is ideal for its cultivation. It grows successfully between 208 North and South latitude, and from sea level up to 1500 meters above sea level. The crop tolerates temperatures between 10o and 408 C. A well distributed annual rainfall of 125-200 cm is considered ideal for black pepper. Black pepper can be grown in a wide range of soils with a pH of 4.5 to 6.5, though in its natural habitat it thrives well in red laterite soils. The black pepper growing areas in the West Coast of India include (i) coastal areas where black pepper is grown in homesteads (ii) midlands and where black pepper is extensively cultivated on a plantation scale and (iii) hills at an elevation of 800-1500 m above sea level, where the crop is mostly grown on shade trees in coffee, cardamom and tea plantations.
A majority of the cultivated types are monoecious (male and female flowers found in the same spike) though variation in sex expression ranging from complete male to complete female is found. Over 75 cultivars of black pepper are being cultivated in India. Karimunda is the most popular of all cultivars in Kerala. The other important cultivars are Kottanadan (South Kerala), Narayakodi (Central Kerala), Aimpiriyan (Wynad), Neelamundi (Idukki), Kuthiravally (Kozhikode and Idukki), Balancotta, Kalluvally (North Kerala), Malligesara and Uddagare (Karnataka). Kuthiravally and Balancotta exhibit alternate bearing habit. In terms of quality, Kottanadan has the highest oleoresin (17.8 per cent) content followed by Aimpiriyan (15.7 per cent).Sixteen improved varieties of black pepper have been released for cultivation . Panniyur-1 and Panniyur-3 are hybrids evolved at the Pepper Research Station, Panniyur (Kerala) and have Uthirankotta and Cheriyakaniakadan as their female and male parents, respectively. IISR Girimunda and IISR Malabar Excel are the two hybrids released from Indian Institute of Spices Research, Calicut.