Spice up your life with allspice

Written by fruit   // 17/01/2006   // 2 Comments

"I was rather amazed when it actually set fruit for the first time. I don't know if the fruit will reach maturity there but there are still quite a few on the tree and these are growing bigger all the time." WORDS BY SHIRLEY KERLE from the Mackay Branch First published in Fruity Talk Newsletter, January 2006.

Pimenta dioica or Pimenta officinalisCommon Names: Allspice, pimento & Jamaican pepper. Family: Myrtaceae 

The allspice is an attractive evergreen tree that is native to the West Indies (it grows prolifically in Jamaica) and the tropical forests of Latin America. It can grow to 10 metres high with a spread of 4 metres and once established is a fairly hardy tree but is drought and frost tender. The leaves are opposite, oblong-acuminate, dark green, thick, leathery and have a prominent mid rib. If you scratch the back of the leaf with your fingernail you'll be rewarded with a lovely spicy clove like aroma. 

According to several different descriptions (in books and in an article from an old Exotics) the silvery grey bark is supposed to be highly aromatic. Well both of my trees are sadly lacking in that department. The clusters of white flowers open at the end of October and attract lots of bees and other insects. The individual flowers are very small and insignificant but have a very strong, almost offensive, odour. 

The allspice berry grows to the size of a small pea (or a large pepper corn) and must be picked when still green but fully grown. The berries are sun, or artificially dried until they turn a dark red-brown colour. If left to ripen the berry loses a lot of its aroma and flavour. When crushed, the berry releases a fragrance similar to cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon but with a slight peppery aroma, hence the common name allspice. Another of the common names, pimento, comes from the Spanish word pimiento meaning pepper plant because the berries resemble pepper corns and have a definite peppery aroma and flavour. I suppose the other common name, Jamaican pepper is because Jamaica is the world's largest producer of the pimento/ allspice berries. The skin of the berry is particularly aromatic so to obtain the full flavour it is best to buy whole berries and grind them as needed. The remains of the calyx is persistent and can still be seen on the dried berries. 

Allspice is grown from seed and these are best obtained from fresh ripe plump berries. Squeeze the outer fleshy part and the two seeds will pop out. Plant immediately in a good seed raising mix. Germination may commence after two weeks. Pot up when ready and keep in a humid shady area then plant out when approximately 30- 50cm high and about a year old. Seedlings will probably need some protection from wind & sun when first planted. They prefer a well drained, light soil, in a sunny area and the root zone kept free from weeds and grass by covering with a thick layer of mulch.

In May 1995 I bought 3 allspice trees from Exotic Groves. I was told that it was a good idea to buy a minimum of three because there are male and female trees so the more trees you have the greater the chances of having a least one female tree. These plants have really struggled during the dry seasons and the smallest one died after a couple of years. After about 5 years both of the remaining trees flowered in October and have done so for most years since but hadn't set fruit. The recent continuing dry spell has taken its toll on both trees and they were looking rather sad until we had a few inches of rain this month (January 2006).

In August 2004 we had an RFCA meeting at the Reville residence, and Val told me that her one and only allspice tree had previously set fruit. At first I was a bit sceptical as I was convinced that our area just wasn't tropical enough for these trees to produce fruit. But in October 2005 Val presented me with an envelope containing several allspice berries from her tree. Soon after this I noticed that my larger tree was flowering and I was rather amazed when it actually set fruit for the first time. I don't know if the fruit will reach maturity there but there are still quite a few on the tree and these are growing bigger all the time. 

When Val gave me these berries I was determined to write an article, on Allspice, for our newsletter. Since my tree set fruit I was even more determined to write about this plant. Hence this article.

Contributed by Shirley Kerle

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  1. By paulamac, 17/12/2011

    Great story from a Mackay Branch member

  2. By lesdmoss, 22/12/2011

    Enjoyed your story on Allspice tree I have one very young tree I must try for a couple more as I didn’t know you need a male and female. But you never know your luck.

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