Brazilian pepper

Schinus terebinthifolia
Family: Anacardiaceae

Natural Historybrazilian pepper
Leaves and fruit of Brazilian pepper
Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

This invasive exotic tree, commonly found on roadsides throughout Florida, is also known as Florida holly and Christmas berry.  A fast growing, prolific seed producer that can be spread by seeds and cuttings, its aggressive growth quickly out competes native vegetation. Originally brought to Florida in the early 1800's from South America  as a showy ornamental, some estimates now claim it covers over  700,000 acres of the state.

The Brazilian pepper is often seen as a large dense shrub or small tree with many stems. It is in the same taxonomic family as poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and is also known to cause irritation as well as respiratory problems when in bloom.  

Habitat & Range

Brazilian pepper tree is native to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil but has become an established, aggressive exotic plan n Florida, Texas and Hawaii. It prefers sun and moist soils but can often withstand drought.  As a pioneer species, it quickly establishes in disturbed habitats such as road sides, but is more abundant in south Florida because it is sensitive to cold.

Wildlife Use

In Florida, the Brazilian pepper seeds are typically dispersed by birds including robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings. While the fruit is often eaten by mammals and birds, some reports show claim large scale bird kills in Florida on excessive eating of the Brazilian pepper berries.

Human Use

The Brazilian pepper is regulated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and is listed as a Category I invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council.  


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Can reach 30' to 43' in height with an uneven crown. Often seen as a large thicket of tangled, arching branches sprouting from multiple stems.
Leaves: Leaves are pinnately compound and alternate reaching 5" to 8" in length. Composed of 3 to 11 (usually 7to 9) leaflets, 1" to 2" long, with a terminal leaflet. Leaflets are elliptical and oblong. The upper surface is dark green with a paler underside. Toothed margin. Leaves are aromatic when crushed, smelling peppery or like turpentine. Winged midrib.
Bark: Smooth, gray-brown bark which exude dark sap when cut.
Flowers: Small white flowers in panicles with 1.5 mm petals.
Fruit: Small, bright red spherical drupe. Often in clusters. Fruit is produced year round.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
Several other plants on our list also have alternate, pinnately-compound leaves.



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