In the days of long ago there came slow-plodding camels into the noisy marketplaces of Athens, Rome, Alexandria and Damascus, with pungent bags of pepper and other spices from the Orient. These eagerly were bought by the wealthy, the only persons in those days who were able to afford to pay for spices. Pepper itself was a fantastic luxury. A Grecian prince, it is said, gave seven sheep for half a pound of it, and Alarie, King of the Goths, demanded a ransom from Rome which included 3,000 pounds of this condiment. Pepper was a treasure of great price, and its trade is one of the oldest on the earth. Because of it. new sea routes to the land of pepper were discovered, new islands located, new trading companies formed, all because of the pepper vine which grew on certain islands in the East Indies.
Saururus cernuus L.
The innocent cause of all this excitement and world turmoil is a climbing or trailing shrub called Piper nigrum. It has jointed stems and oval, shiny, leathery leaves, from the axils of which spring small tails of tiny white flowers. These develop into drooping clusters of green, berry-like fruits which are the pepper-corns.
In an Illinois swamp there grows the lizard-tail, the only American member of the tribe Saurnraceae, to which the pepper vine belongs. The lizard-tail has some of the characteristics of the pepper plant - heart-shaped, leathery leaves, and the long white tails of flowers, tapering like a lizard's tail. This lone member of a tropical family grows abundantly in certain swamps, not as a vine but as a plant two feet tall or so. blossoming in July when the egrets come back to Illinois swamps. Serene in the swamp, lizard-tail has escaped the turmoil which for centuries has surrounded its close kin, the pepper.