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Invasive Species Profile

Brazilian Pepper

NATIVE RANGE: Subtropical Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

DESCRIPTION: Brazilian pepper, (Schinus terebinthifolius) also known as Christmas berry and Florida holly is an evergreen shrub or small tree, 3-7 meters tall or more. Its trunk is often multiple-stemmed. When growing in open areas, the crowns of these trees are broad and rounded and comprise numerous, long, arching leafy branches that reach often reach the ground. The leaves are glossy, dark green above and pale green below. When crushed the leaves produce a pungent aroma that has been described as "peppery". The red berries (fruit) are produced in the winter (November to February).

ECOLOGICAL THREAT: Brazilian pepper is an aggressive invader that spreads rapidly. It successfully colonizes many native plant communities including pine flatwoods, tropical hardwood hammocks, and mangrove forest. The trees form dense thickets in which the low hanging limbs of the trees form a tangle of vegetation that is impossible to penetrate. The soils beneath such trees are virtually sterile and support no other plants. Surveys conducted by the South Florida Water Management District indicate Brazilian pepper is the most widespread exotic plant in the state occupying more than 700,000 acres. Thus the species is a serious threat to the diversity of natural systems. In addition Brazilian pepper also poses several health and safety problems. A relative of poison ivy, direct contact with the sap can cause skin irritation. Chemicals given off by the blooms can cause sinus and nasal congestion, sneezing, headaches, and eye irritation.

HABITAT IN THE UNITED STATES: Brazilian pepper is found in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, California, and Hawaii. It readily colonizes areas of disturbed soils such as road right-of-ways, powerline easements, abandoned farmlands, canal banks, or soils disturbed by natural events such as hurricanes. Since it is tolerant of a wide variety of conditions it can survive in widely different soil types.

 METHODS OF REPRODUCTION AND DISPERSAL: Flowering and fruiting can occur sporadically throughout the year, however, the main flowering period is September to October. Fruit production occurs during the winter (November to February), at which time the branches are heavily laden with red fruits. Ripe fruit can remain on the tree for up to 8 months. The fruits are eaten and transported by birds and mammals. They can also be spread by flowing water. Birds are responsible for the spread of this species to almost every terrestrial habitat in Florida.

CURRENT MANAGEMENT APPROACHES: Restoration of areas infested with Brazilian pepper requires a long-term commitment to the elimination of all the trees in the area. Federal, state, and local governments along with private conservation groups expend considerable amounts of money and time each year to eliminate infestations. A few trees remaining on private properties adjacent to the cleared area can negate all that work. The removal of all seed sources from the area is essential to prevent reinfestation. Common methods for eliminating the trees in residential areas include pulling up small seedlings and cutting the trees to stumps. Herbicide is applied to the stumps to prevent resprouting. In larger areas with dense growth mechanical cutting with heavy equipment has proven to be cost effective. In this method the stumps are also treated with herbicide immediately after cutting with a follow up treatment approximately six months later to eliminate resprouts or plants that have grown from seeds. There is currently no biological control agent available for management of Brazilian pepper.

USE PESTICIDES WISELY: ALWAYS READ THE ENTIRE PESTICIDE LABEL CAREFULLY, FOLLOW ALL MIXING AND APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS AND WEAR ALL RECOMMENDED PERSONAL PROTECTIVE GEAR AND CLOTHING. CONTACT YOUR STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE FOR ANY ADDITIONAL PESTICIDE USE REQUIREMENTS, RESTRICTIONS, OR RECOMMENDATIONS.

For more information on the management of Brazilian pepper, please contact: your local agricultural extenuation office, in Fort Myers you can contact 338-3232.

AUTHORS:   Gordon Romeis and Lisa Douglass, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Photographs: IFAS

Illustration: Jeanette Wood, Florida Department of Environmental Protection.  

REFERENCES:  

Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. July 1997. "Brazilian Pepper Management Plan for Florida".

Information on the web

Please visit the DEP on the world wide web at www.dep.state.fl.us. For more information about invasive exotic plants contact the agricultural extension office nearest you. Or, visit the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council at www.fleppc.org for more information regarding various exotic plant species.

Also visit the website for the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact

Last Updated: 01/15/08

 

 

 

Last updated: January 15, 2008
  South District, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Fort Myers, Florida 33901 239-344-5600 / 850-412-0590(fax) / SouthDistrict@dep.state.fl.us
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