2.1- Distribution and ecology Piper species have a pantropical distribution, and are most commonly found in the understory of lowland tropical rainforests, but can also occur in clearings and in higher elevation life zones such as cloud forests; one species (Japanese Pepper, Piper kadsura, from southern Japan and southernmost Korea) is subtropical and can tolerate light winter frost. Peppers are often dominant species where they are found. Most Piper species are either herbaceous or vines; some grow as shrubs or almost as small trees. A few species, commonly called "ant pipers" (e.g. Piper cenocladum), live in a mutualism with ants. The fruit of the Piper plant, called a peppercorn when it is round and pea-sized, as is usual, is distributed in the wild mainly by birds, but small fruit-eating mammals - e.g. bats of the genus Carollia - are also important. Despite the high content of chemicals that are noxious toherbivores, some have evolved the ability to withstand the chemical defences of pepper plants, for example the sematurinemothHomidiana subpicta or some flea beetles of the genus Lanka. The latter can be significant pests to pepper growers.
2.2- Piperand human uses + Used as Ornamentals Many pepper plants make good ornamentals for gardens in subtropical or warmer regions. Pepper vines can be used much as ivy in temperate climates, while other species, like Lacquered Pepper (Piper magnificum) grow as sizeable, compact and attractive shrubs with tough and shiny leaves. Smaller species, like Celebes Pepper (Piper ornatum) with its finely patterned leaves, are also suitable as indoor pot plants. Unsustainable logging of tropical primary forests is threatening a number of peppers. The extent of the effect of such wholesale habitat destruction on the genus is unknown, but it is to be noted that in the forests of Ecuador - the only larger region for which comprehensive data exists - more than a dozen species are known to be on the brink of extinction. On the other hand, other Piper species (e.g. Spiked Pepper, Piper aduncum) have been widely distributed as a result of human activity and are a major invasive species in certain areas. The most significant human use of Piper is not for its looks however, but ultimately for the wide range of powerful secondary compounds found particularly in the fruits.
+ Used as Spice Culinary use of pepper plants is attested perhaps as early as 9,000 years ago. Peppercorn remains were found among the food refuse left by Hoabinhian artisans at Spirit Cave, Thailand. It is not too likely that these plants were deliberately grown rather than collected from the wild. Use of peppercorns as pungent spice is significant on an international scale. In classical antiquity, there was a vigorous trade of spices including Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) from South Asia to Europe already. The Apicius, a recipe collection complied about 400 AD, mentions "pepper" as a spice for most main dishes. Judging from the Apicius, in the late Roman Empire, Black Pepper was probably still expensive, but nevertheless seems to have been available readily enough to be used more frequently than salt or sugar. As Europe moved into the Early Middle Ages, trade routes deteriorated and the use of pepper declined somewhat. But this dearth was hardly ever absolute and altogether rather short-lived. Black peppercorns, storing easily and having a high mass per volume, never ceased to be a profitable trade item. In the Middle Ages, international traders were nicknamed Pfeffersäcke ("pepper-sacks") in German towns of the Hanseatic League and elsewhere. As the Modern Era came into full swing, wars were fought by European powers, between themselves and in complex alliances and enmities with Indian Ocean states, about control of the supply of spices, perhaps the most archetypal being Black Pepper fruit. Today, Black Pepper corns of the three preparations (green, white and black) are one of the most widely used spices of plant origin worldwide. Due to the wide distribution of Piper, the fruit of other species are also important spices, many of them internationally. Mecaxochitl (Piper amalgo) was used by the Aztecs to spice up cocoa. Cubeb (Piper cubeba), also known as Tailed or Javan Pepper actually played a major role in Early Modern Era spice trade; ocet kubebowy, Cubeb-flavored vinegar, was a popular condiment in 14th century Poland. But reputedly Philip IV of Spain at the end of the 1630s suppressed trade in Cubeb peppercorns to capitalize on his massive share of the Black Pepper trade. After a brief comeback as a medical plant, Cubeb is nowadays fairly obscure in the West. It is however a most significant spice around the Indian Ocean region today, and popular as far as Morocco where it flavors spicy-sweet markoutpastry and is sometimes included in the famous ras el hanout mix. Further east, it is well-loved across Indonesia, where it is the popular pepper to use in gulé (curried stews). West African Pepper (Piper guineense), also given a variety of "regionalized" names like "Beninpepper", "Ashanti pepper, or the rather ambiguous "Guinea pepper", is considered supreme for use in stews and other regional specialties. It is used in addition to Black Pepper to impart a particularly refined aroma with hints of nutmeg and saffron. Sometimes it is used in the East Africanberbere spice mix. This species, despite being traded more extensively in earlier times, is very hard to get outside Africa today. More readily available in the West is Long pepper (Piper longum), commonly traded under its Indian name pipalli. This is possibly the secondmost popular Piper spice internationally; it has a rather chili-like "heat" and the whole inflorescenceis used as the fruits are tiny. For other spices called "pepper", see Pepper.
+ Used as vegetables Not only the seeds of Piper are used in cooking. West African Pepper leaves, known locally asuziza, are used as flavoring vegetable in Nigerian stews. In Mexican-influenced cooking, hoja santa or Mexican Pepperleaf (Piper auritum) has a variety of uses, mainly to impart flavor too. In Southeast Asia, leaves of two species of Piper have major importance in cooking: Lolot (Piper lolot) is used to wrap meat for grilling in the Indochina region, while Wild Betel (Piper sarmentosum), often seen under the Thai name cha phlu, is used raw or cooked as a vegetable in its own right in Malay and Thai cuisine; it is also used to prepare the famous miang kham snacks of northwestern Thailand.
+ Used as Stimulant Two Piper species have gained large-scale use as a stimulant. Betel (Piper betle) leaves are used to wrap Betel palm nut slices; its sap helps release the stimulating effect of these "cookies" which are widely known as pan in India. In the Pacific region, where it has been widely spread as a canoe plant, Kava (Piper methysticum) is used to produce a calming drink somewhat similar to alcohol and benzodiazapines but without many of the negative side effects and less of an addiction risk. It has also become popular elsewhere in recent decades, and is used as a medical plant. However, Pills that contain parts of the whole plant have occasionally shown a strong hepatotoxic effect, which has led to the banning of kava in many countries. On the other hand, the traditional preparation of the root as a calming drink appears to pose little, if any, such hazard. See also:Betel leaf, Kava culture.