Schinus terebinthifolius
Common Name: Brazilian peppertree  
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Anacardiaceae
Native Range: Venezula to Argentina
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 15.00 to 30.00 feet
Spread: 10.00 to 20.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Fragrant, Evergreen
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11 where it will thrive in average, moist but well-drained soils in full sun. Established plants tolerate drought. Brazilian pepper is on the Florida Noxious Weeds List meaning possession and cultivation of this shrub/tree are illegal. Birds and small mammals love the fruit and are primary agents of seed disbursal. Seed will also travel to new locations in moving water. Plants spread easily by root suckers to form dense thickets.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Schinus terebinthifolius, commonly called Brazilian pepper tree, is a small, often multi-trunked, dioecious (separate male and female plants), evergreen tree or large shrub that typically matures as a tree to 30-40' tall or as a shrub to 20' tall. It is primarily noted for (a) glossy, evergreen, odd-pinnate leaves which have a pepper-like aroma when bruised, (b) white late summer flowers in panicles, (c) showy bright red berries which ripen in winter, (d) allergen-causing properties (same family as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac), and (e) invasive and spreading habit. It is native to Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, but has been introduced in tropical to sub-tropical areas around the world where it has naturalized and in many cases become invasive. In the U.S., it has escaped plantings and naturalized in parts of Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and Hawaii. It spreads rapidly. Each leaf (to 6-12" long) contains 3 to 13 (typically 7 to 9) nearly stalkless, shiny green to yellowish green, ovate to lanceolate leaflets (each 1-2" long) on a winged rachis. Small, 5-petaled white flowers in panicles to 6" long bloom from late summer into fall. Female trees produce attractive and usually abundant clusters of spherical, berry-like fruits (to 1/4" across) which ripen to bright red by mid-winter. Leafy, fruit-laden sprigs have in the past been commonly used as Christmas decorations (hence the sometimes used additional common names of Christmasberry and Florida holly). Gray trunk bark develops irregular furrows with age.

Genus name comes from the Greek name schinos for the mastic tree which this genus resembles in that the trees exude a mastic-like juice.

Specific epithet means pertaining to turpentine and foliage. Supposedly, for the aromatic foliage.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Invasive.

Garden Uses

Brazilian pepper tree was introduced into the U. S. in the 1800s as an ornamental shrub/tree featuring evergreen foliage and attractive fruits. Over time, it has proved to be an aggressive and invasive spreader that displaces native vegetation. It has proven to be adept at colonizing disturbed sites (roadsides, fields, pastures) and undisturbed sites (forests). Brazilian pepper tree is no longer recommended for cultivation because of its aggressively invasive characteristics. In some areas such as the State of Florida, possession and cultivation of this plant are illegal.