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Herbs, shrubs or treelets, sometimes scandent, rarely lianas. Leaves simple, alternate, opposite or in whorls; stipules absent or present; prophyll often present, sometimes enclosing shoot-apex. Inflorescences terminal, axillary, or leaf-opposed spikes with minute flowers, solitary or few together, or occasionally spikes arranged in panicles or umbels. Flowers sessile, usually bisexual, without calyx or corolla, subtended by a floral bract; stamens 1-6; ovary sessile or stipitate, 1-locular with 1 ovule, stigmas 1-4. Fruits small drupes or nuts.Fruits are said to be dispersed by bats or epizoochorous.


Guianas present, Pantropical present
A pantropical family with more than 3000 species, the number of genera is ca. 8; in the Guianas 2 genera with 88 species.

Taxonomic changes

  • Artanthe schomburgkii Klotzsch to Piper guianense (Klotzsch) C. DC.
  • Peperomia muscosa Link to Peperomia quadrangularis (J.V. Thomps.) A. Dietr.
  • Piper amapense Yunck. to Piper inaequale C. DC.
  • Piper fockei Trel. & Yunck. to Piper paramaribense C. DC.
  • Piper gabrielianum (Miq.) C. DC. to Piper avellanum (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper gleasonii Yunck. to Piper trichoneuron (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper gleasonii Yunck. var. wonotoboense Yunck. to Piper hostmannianum (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper insigne (Kunth) Steud. to Piper obliquum Ruiz & Pav.
  • Piper kappleri C. DC. to Piper cyrtopodum (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper kegelianum (Miq.) C. DC. to Piper trichoneuron (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper lenormandianum C. DC. to Piper demeraranum (Miq.) C. DC.
  • Piper liesneri Steyerm. to Piper brasiliense C. DC.
  • Piper maguirei Yunck. to Piper paramaribense C. DC.
  • Piper nematanthera C. DC. to Piper hymenophyllum (Miq.) Wight
  • Piper oblongifolium (Klotzsch) C. DC., Piper oblongifolium (Klotzsch) C. DC. var. glabrum C. DC. to Piper guianense (Klotzsch) C. DC.
  • Piper romboutsii Yunck. to Piper divaricatum G. Mey.
  • Piper subciliatum C. DC. to Piper cyrtopodum (Miq.) C. DC.


The family consists of mainly herbaceous or (sub)shrubby species. Only in Piper, larger trees or climbing species occur. However, the stem diameter rarely exceeds a few cm (for instance: the available sample of the climbing species P. poiteanum was less than 1 cm in diam.). The yellowish to brown wood of Piperaceae is characterized by a combination of small vessels and broad to very broad and high rays consisting of upright and square cells, forming up to 50 % of the surface in transverse section and often continuing from pith to bark.
As far as known the wood is of no commercial value.
A. Carlquist, S.: A theory of paedomorphosis in dicotyledonous woods. – Phytomorphology 12, B. Dadswell, H.E. & S.J. Record. 1936: Identification of woods with conspicuous rays. – Trop Woods 48, C. Dechamps, R. 1985: Etude anatomique de bois d’ Amérique du Sud. III. Linaceae-Quiinaceae. – Ann. Mus. roy. Afr. Cent. Tervuren No 14, D. Détienne, P. & P. Jacquet. 1983 – In: Atlas d’identification des bois de l’Amazonie et des régions voisines, E. Ilic, J. 1991 – In: CSIRO atlas of hardwoods, F. Kribs, D.A. 1968 – In: Commercial Foreign Woods on the American Market, G. Lindeman, J.C., A.M.W. Mennega & W.H.A. Hekking. 1963 – In: Bomenboek voor Suriname, H. Metcalfe, C.R. & L. Chalk. 1950: – Anatomy of the Dicotyledons Volume 2, I. Metcalfe, C.R. 1987: – Anatomy of the Dicotyledons vol. 3, J. Record, S.J. & R.W. Hess. 1943 – In: Timbers of the New World, K. Williams, L. 1936: Woods of Northeastern Peru. – Field Mus. nat. Hist. 15


The descriptions are mainly based on herbarium specimens. In vivo specimens may differ in leaf texture and the measures may be different. When too few collections were available, data from Steyermark, Callejas & Steyermark, or Mathieu were used.
In the species descriptions some characters are given only, when they are important to distinguish morphological similar taxa, like for instance: anther dehiscence, indument of the spike rachis, the prophyll and stipules. To give them in all descriptions would make the treatment too lengthy. In the paragraphs specimens examined only those duplicates have been noted that I have actually seen.