The allspice tree, classified as an evergreen shrub, can reach 10–18 m (33–59 ft) in height. Allspice can be a small, scrubby tree, quite similar to the bay laurel in size and form. It can also be a tall, canopy tree, sometimes grown to provide shade for coffee trees planted underneath it. It can be grown outdoors in the tropics and subtropics with normal garden soil and watering. Smaller plants can be killed by frost, although larger plants are more tolerant. It adapts well to container culture and can be kept as a houseplant or in a greenhouse. At the time allspice was encountered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World, it was found only on the island of Jamaica, where the plant was readily spread by birds. Allspice was introduced into European and Mediterranean cuisines in the 16th century. To protect the pimenta trade, Jamaican growers guarded against export of the plant. Many attempts at growing the pimenta from seeds were reported, but all failed. Eventually, passage through the avian digestive tract, whether due to the acidity or the elevated temperature, was found to be essential for germinating the seeds, and successful germination elsewhere was enabled. Today, pimenta grows in Tonga and Hawaii, where it has become naturalized on Kauaʻi and Maui. It continued to be grown primarily in Jamaica, though a few other Central American countries produced allspice in comparatively small quantities.
Allspice is the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant. The fruits are picked when green and unripe and are traditionally dried in the sun. When dry they are brown and resemble large, smooth peppercorns. Fresh leaves are similar in texture to bay leaves and similarly used in cooking. Leaves and wood are often used for smoking meats where allspice is a local crop. Care must be taken during drying to ensure that volatile oil, such as eugenol, remains in the end products.