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Member of :

GWAA

The Garden Writers Association


Last Update 12/08/11

Plant of the Month

Schinus terebinthifolius

 Brazilian-pepper tree, Christmasberry tree, Florida Holly

First, the warnings: This shrub/tree is one of the worst exotic pest plants in the State of Florida (please do not plant it or encourage its growth: It is regulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under 62C-52.011 Prohibited Aquatic Plants. It is a Class I Prohibited Aquatic Plant, which means "Under no circumstances will this species be permitted for possession, collection, transportation, cultivation, and importation except as provided in Rule 62C-52.004, F.A.C) as it produces a dense forest canopy that shades out all other foliage and which in turn produces such a poor habitat for native wildlife species that almost nothing other than the Brazilian Pepper itself will grow or live in the areas it colonizes. To put it in perspective, over 700,000 acres in Florida are covered by this weed.

 

While it is commonly known as Florida Holly, Schinus terebinthifolius is neither from Florida nor a holly. The plant was brought to the state in the early 1800's from South America to be cultivated and sold as an ornamental plant. S. terebinthifolius is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which includes poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and poisonwood. Sensitive people may develop severe dermatitis if their bare skin comes into contact with the sap or resins of S. terebinthifolius. Many people also report respiratory problems when the plant is in bloom.

Brazilian-pepper tree, Christmasberry tree, Florida-holly

Schinus terebinthifolius fruit (Click to enlarge).

In other countries S. terebinthifolius is often grown for culinary purposes. The berries, when dried, are the Pink Peppercorns in products such as McCormick Spice's "Peppercorn Mélange". The seed when crushed releases a sweet, volatile, pine-like aroma faintly smelling like piperine oil, the key component in true black pepper. The flavor of Pink Peppercorns is sweet, warm, fresh and camphorous with a lingering astringency but little heat. Bees love the plant's flowers and make honey from their nectar. Raccoons and 'possums eat the fruit of the plant and contribute to its spread by passing the seeds in their scat. Fruit-eating birds such as the migratory American Robin also adore the fruit and can seed wide areas by passing the seeds in their guano. It is reported that certain birds and other wildlife during certain times of the year adore the berries of this plant for their narcotic effects.

The Florida Holly or Christmasberry tree gets these names because its fruit-laden branches are often used as Christmas decorations in Florida and the plant's small bright-red fruits mature between December and January.

 

Plant Facts:

Common Name:   Brazilian-pepper tree, Christmasberry tree, Florida Holly

Botanical Name:   Schinus terebinthifolius

Family:  Anacardiaceae

Plant Type:  Moderately bushy, large shrub or small tree.

Origin: Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina 

Zones: 9 - 11

Height:  15" to 22"

Rate of Growth: Fast

Salt Tolerance: High

Soil Requirements:  Any

Water Requirements: High drought tolerance

Nutritional Requirements: None

Light Requirements: Full sun

Form:  Spreading bush or tree

Leaves:  Oblong, 4-7" long, deep-green, paler underneath. Smell strongly of turpentine when crushed.

Flowers: Tiny, white produced in panicles from summer to autumn, most profusely usually in October.

Fruits: Small, bright-red, dry to pink

Pests or diseases:  Megastigmus transvaalensis wasps (feed on and destroy the fruit), scale insects and spider mites. 

Uses:  Not recommended!

Bad Habits: Birds -- especially robins -- eat the fruit and spread the seeds in their droppings. The plant is very good at establishing itself in most areas of the state and forms dense brushy thickets which eventually choke out all native vegetation. Schinus terebinthifolius releases allelopathic chemicals where it grows which often prevents other species of plants from growing around it.

Cost:  

Propagation:  Prohibited!

Sources:  AMERICAN HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY A-Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF GARDEN PLANTS

 

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