Brazilian pepper tree, or Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi, is a broadleaf evergreen native to South America. The tree serves as an ornamental in the nursery trade, but it frequently escapes cultivation and invades fields, forests and wetlands. Land managers in California, Florida, Hawaii and Texas treat the plant as an invasive weed. Homeowners who wish to plant Brazilian pepper tree should judiciously prune the plant to keep its aggressive growth in check.
Native to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, the Brazilian pepper tree was widely sold in the U.S. as an ornamental in the 1800s. Today, the tree continues to sell as a decorative plant during the holidays due to its festive red fruit and green foliage. For this reason, the tree is often labeled Christmas berry or Florida holly. Brazilian pepper tree serves as a source of timber and spice.
Brazilian pepper tree grows up to 30 feet tall as a multi-stemmed tree or shrub. The tree forms red berries, white flowers and elliptical-shaped leaves that emit a pepper or turpentine odor when crushed. The tree resembles hollyhock and belongs to the poison sumac family. The leaves produce substances that irritate skin.
The fruit of the tree contains seed that migrating birds eat and disperse to new areas. The seed readily sprouts in canals, ditches and swamps. Once established, the tree forms a dense thicket that crowds out native vegetation and proves difficult to remove manually. The tree also releases biochemicals that inhibit the germination of competing species.
Brazilian pepper trees respond to cut-stump and basal bark herbicide applications. The cut-stump method requires immediate application of a triclopyr or glyphosate herbicide to the exposed cambium tissue of a freshly cut stump. The basal bark method requires an injection of triclopyr ester herbicide into the bark. Saplings respond to foliar applications of herbicides.
- FloridaGardener.com; Schinus Terebinthifolius--Brazilian Pepper Tree; June 2008
- USDA Forest Service; Schinus Terebinthifolius Raddi--Brazilian Pepper Tree; John K. Francis
- University of Hawaii: Schinus Terebinthifolius Raddi
- University of Florida IFAS Extension; Brazilian Pepper-tree Control; Ken Gioeli, et al.; 2009