In the Arboretum Today
by Alfredo Cheri
Pimenta diocia -Myrtaceae
(1) CRFG and planted in 1992 (r.f.-09)
(2) Fullerton Arboretum and planted in 2000 (r.f.-09)
Common Names: Pimento, Jamaica Pepper, Pimenta, Allspice.
When Columbus returned to Spain from his first voyage to the New World, he spoke of having arrived in India where he found "a tree with leaves that smell just like cloves." He was referring to what we now know as allspice. The Spaniards were eager to show that they had fulfilled their mission of discovering a route to India by bringing back gold and spices.
The dried berries of the allspice tree were labeled pimienta" or pepper. It was a complete misnomer, based only on visual appearance, since the allspice berries and the black peppercorns look somewhat similar, but they are about as far away from pepper as a spice can get. By 1601 the spice was at least called "Jamaica pepper." In 1693 it was listed as "sweet scented Jamaica pepper or allspice. Allspice initially was sold in Europe as a substitute for "round cardamon," (an aromatic seed of various zingiberaceous plants).
The popular name allspice apparently came into usage in the 17th century. It stemmed from the description that it is a blend of cloves, juniper, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, which remains the most prevalent description today. The pimento is related to the clove tree. The oil of both spices shares the same principal constituent, the phenol Eugenol (Oleum
Pimento, or allspice, also is known as Piper maicense, Semen Amomi. The allspice tree is an evergreen and averages 20 to 30 feet tall. The trunk is erect, with many round branches toward the summit. The allspice tree begins to fruit when seven or eight years old and is in full bearing after fifteen years. The flowers are small, in axillary and trichotomous
(three-forked) panicles, and they appear in June through August and are quickly succeeded by the berries.
The fruits are about 3/10 inch in diameter, with a rough and brittle surface. The fruit has two cells, each cell containing a single, kidney-shaped seed. The special qualities of the fruit reside in the rind of the berries. Berries are collected as soon as they have attained their full size but while unripe and green, since they lose their aroma on ripening, owing to loss of their volatile oil.
Gathering of the berries is performed by breaking off the small twigs bearing the bunches. These are then spread out and exposed to the sun and air for some days, after which the stalks are removed and the berries are ready.
There are both "male" and "female" allspice trees. The so-called "male" trees rarely bear fruit. There is no way to tell which is which before the time of fruiting. The pimento tree is not improved by cultivation.
Several islands of the Caribbean grow the allspice tree, but the main producer is Jamaica. Other current sources are Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras.