Selected Trees and Shrubs
Pimenta officinalis; Synonym: P. dioica, Common name: Allspice, Pimento
Plant Family: Belongs to the Myrtaceae or Myrtle family, which includes the Bay Tree or Bois d'Inde (Pimenta acris), Cloves(Syzygium aromaticum) and Guava (Psidium guajava).
Description: In Gardens at southern end of Upper Garden Path; trees small to medium, up to 15 m tall (50 ft); bark flakes leaving smooth, pale, tan surface, similar to Guava or Bay; young branchlets flattened and 4-angled; leaves opposite, ovate, deep green, smooth and shinny, 10-20 cm long (4-8 in) and up to 5 cm wide (2 in), with strong smell of cloves from resinous glands when crushed; flowers small, white and fragrant, borne in clusters at or near branch ends; fruit a pea-sized, usually 2-seeded, round berry, black when ripe, with both pulp and seed aromatic.
Natural Habitat: Thrives in hot climates with moderate rainfall and friable, well-drained soils; is extensively grown in Jamaica, where it flourishes on limestone hills near sea, cultivated or semi-wild; propagation usually by seed, but also by grafting and budding; trees begin bearing in 3-4 years, flowering and fruiting June-August.
Origin and Distribution: Native of West Indies, primarily Jamaica, and C. America; introduced in India and E. Africa, among other locations.
Uses: Cultivated for its strongly aromatic berries, the Allspice or Pimento of commerce, Jamaica being main producer, with more than half of world supply; is also grown commercially in Mexico, Honduras, Trinidad and Cuba; only spice whose commercial production is entirely confined to New World; principal essential oil in allspice is eugenol, same as found in cloves, which is used as anesthetic for tooth aches.
Berries picked when full-sized but before ripening, dried then processed for spice - whole, ground or pickled; aroma is mixture of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, hence the name Allspice; oil from leaves used in perfumes and as substitute for clove oil; in Jamaica, rum flavored with ripe berries produces a delicious and popular liqueur, Pimento Dram; Allspice also used in flavoring the liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse.
Indigenous Legends: Derives its name from the Portuguese pimenta or the Spanish pimiento meaning pepper, because of its resemblance to peppercorns.
Dorothy P. Storer. Familiar Trees and Cultivated Plants of Jamaica. Macmillan, London 1964
H.F. Macmillan. Tropical Planting and Gardening. Macmillan, London 1956
Anon. Official Guide to the Botanic Gardens, Dominica. Kew Gardens, London, 1924?
C.D. Adams. Flowering Plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies, Mona, Glasgow University Press 1972
Mrs. M. Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications Inc., New York, 1981 (botanical.com)
Steve Christman. Pimenta dioica. Floridata, Tallahassee, Florida 2004 (floridata.com)
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