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Brazilian Pepper
brazilian pepper
Brazilian pepper, photographed at Blazing Star Environmental Preserve in Boca Raton. Note the terminal leaflet, a key identifying feature of Brazilian Pepper.
brazilian pepper leaf
 

Before the Burmese python slithered its way into the Everglades, this sprawling tree, the Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthfolius, was environmetal public enemy No. 1 in Florida.

It's one of the few invasives where the source and ground zero of the infestation are clearly known. Brazilian pepper is a native of Brazil, as you might guess, Paraguay and Argentina. In the 1890s, the plant was imported into Florida as an ornamental. As the story is told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a certain Dr. George Stone in 1926 began growing Brazilian pepper at his Punta Gorda home.

Stone was so taken by its beauty, he began giving away seedlings by the hundreds; Brazilian pepper began showing up along city streets.

By the 1950s, scientists noticed that the tree was beginning to dominate parts of the state. By 1969, it became evident that Brazilian pepper had the potential to devastate the Everglades.

The threat it still poses cannot be understated. According to the USDA, Brazilian pepper is "ranked among the most important threats to biodiversity in the South Florida ecosystem." It "occupies more space in the state than every other invasive species."

It is estimated that Brazilian pepper covers 700,000 acres of Florida real estate. The plant can form massive stands that crowd out native plants, in turn depriving native animals of food. It is believed to put chemicals into the soil that inhibit other plants from growing nearby.

 
 
brazilian pepper fruit
 

Cut it down and it will regrow from the roots. A single tree can produce seeds by the hundreds of thousands. It puts out berries in fall and winter when there is little else fruiting, making it attractive to wild life. The fruit, however, can have a deadly "paralyzing" effect on birds and other animals.

The sap contains urushiol, which puts the poison in poison ivy and poison wood. The fruit is used to make pink peppercorns (a related species, Paraguayan pepper, is also used). Brazilian pepper has compound leaves, each with four or six lateral leaflets and a single terminal leaflet (a key identifer). Other names: Brazilian peppertree, Christmas berry, Florida holly and broad-leaf holly.

 

 
Brazilian Pepper
  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distribution maps for Brazilian pepper.

 

Brazilian Pepper
 
Links for Brazilian Pepper
 
 
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