Schinus molle is commonly called Brazilian pepper tree, American pepper, Peruvian pepper and false pepper; it is the source of the pink peppercorns used in mixed pepper bouquets. It grows as a large shrub or small tree. You'll find it growing in the United States in California, Texas and Florida. The plant is considered invasive in many tropical to subtropical regions, where it spreads and takes over native species habitat. The scaly bark, delicate leaves and pepper-scented red fruits give the tree an attractive and unique appearance in the home landscape.
Schinus molle has attractive lacy leaves comprised of bi-pinnately arranged leaflets. The tree may get up to 30 feet tall in its native habitat but tends to be somewhat smaller in the home garden. The tree adapts to a variety of soils and can thrive in sandy, loamy or clay soils. Schinus molle is drought-tolerant but also performs well in moist conditions. Its flowers are extremely small white blooms hidden in the foliage, but they turn into bright-pink to red, round, hard berries. The false pepper tree is hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for brief periods but is most notable as a warm-weather plant.
Shade and Dermatitis
You can't plant Schinus molle in the shade. The plant requires sun for both flowers and fruit but also to produce adequate carbohydrates from the sun. The leaves are small with minimal surface area to conduct photosynthesis; as such they do best in full sun. The false pepper tree's natural habitat in the Andes reflects a sunny, warm climate. Partial shade locations will limit growth and diminish the flowers and fruits that the tree can produce. Schinus molle is known to cause skin problems in some people. The leaves contain an oil that may be too caustic for some skin, so don't plant it where children play.
Schinus molle is considered a dangerous invasive species in Hawaii. It was introduced as an ornamental and thrives in the warm, humid climate. The false peppercorn tree has spread into wild areas and threatens native species. California and Florida list the tree on their invasive species databases. It is recommended that you do not plant Schinus molle in these semitropical states because of the plant's ability to spread easily through seed.
Don't plant Schinus molle where its shallow, strong roots can penetrate or push up concrete, rock walls or other structures. Planting it anywhere near sidewalks or curbs may result in damage to the concrete. Don't plant the tree within 10 feet or more of drains or sewers, or the roots will tend to grow into them and clog them. Also, don't plant false pepper near entries, foundations or in the lawn due to the root spread. Schinus molle is a moderately fast-growing tree, but you must remember it will become close to 30 feet tall and needs adequate vertical space.
- Arizona Arboretum: Plant List: Schinus Molle
- The Unversity of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension: Schinus Molle
- Invasive Plants Atlas of the United States: Peruvian Peppertree - Schinus Molle
- California Invasive Plant Council: Schinus Molle
- Aussie Gardening: Schinus Molle - California Peppertree
- United States Department of Agriculture: Schinus Molle - Peruvian Peppertree