The Brazilian pepper tree, or Schinus terebinthifolius, as known by its scientific name, is a tree which is native not only to the country of Brazil, but also, to other parts of South America–such as Argentina and Paraguay. It’s common here in the Sarasota area, where landscape architects avoid it and most landscape designers forego it, although it is a beautiful variety of plant.
Some who call this area home wonder how a tree, sometimes called Florida Holly or Christmasberry, even got to the state of Florida. It was first introduced to the state for decorative purposes due to its bright green leaves and red berries, which is commonly used during Christmas time. The red berries were also dried and used in peppercorn blend cooking spices.
What likely wasn’t widely known at the time is the tree is classified in the same family as Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac, making it less than ideal for yards where children and pets play freely. Allergic reactions, however, don’t have as a severe effect on people as do the other species in its family. Allergic reactions caused by the plant include varying degrees of skin, throat, and lung irritation.
The reason it was probably brought to the US not only for its edible offspring so-to-speak, but because it blooms in the months between September through November. Then, during the month of December the tree produces glossy looking berries grow in clusters that are initially a green color but gradually turn bright red.
About Brazilian Pepper Trees
Unfortunately, there are ill effects to these native Brazilian plants. These trees do kill other vegetation by forming dense thickets and by chemically suppressing the growth of what are known as “understory plants”. Because these trees spread rapidly, they effectively wipe out other kinds and total numbers of wildlife by destroying their usual food and shelter. In addition the pepper plant damages shorelines by disturbing natural fish-breeding habitat through crowding out valuable mangroves, and shallow roots allow erosion.
This shrub/tree is one of the most aggressive and wide-spread of the invasive non-indigenous exotic pest plants in the State of Florida. There are over 700,000 acres in Florida infested with Brazilian pepper tree. Brazilian pepper tree produces a dense canopy that shades out all other plants and provides a very poor habitat for native species. This species invades aquatic as well as terrestrial habitats, greatly reducing the quality of native biotic communities in the state. —University of Florida, Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Brazilian pepper grow at a rate of up to 10 feet per year. If the tree is cut down, it will resprout. What’s more, the roots are very difficult to dig up. These trees spread through distribution by birds and animals. Resilient, it’s resistant to natural events like flooding, fire, and even drought. Because they grow near the shoreline, they are of course, able to grow in wet or dry soil, and are salt-tolerant. To top it all off, the state does not have any natural predators to keep them under control.
How to Get Rid of Brazilian Pepper Trees Permanently
Reading the facts above might cause one to throw up one’s hands and just decide to try to burn it out, but that will bring more trouble than it’s worth. Chemicals will probably do the trick, but of course, are a danger to children and family pets, as well as wildlife. Here’s how to get rid of Brazilian pepper trees permanently:
- Dress appropriately. As everyone familiar with this plant knows, it’s a prickly situation. So, dress in thick clothing, wearing gloves, and eye protection to ward off any allergic reactions.
- Cut into the tree. Take a chainsaw to the tree, cutting toward the base of the trunk, leaving about a 6 to 12 inches above the soil.
- Dig a hole around the tree. Using a shovel, begin digging a hole around the root ball, making a wide circle to ensure the whole root system is exposed.
- Pull up all the roots. Dig up the roots and “root” around in the hole, finding and removing any portions of the root system which may have been severed from the ball.
- Backfill the hole to finish. Fill the hole and then, keep a sharp eye on it for the next few weeks. If any sprouts appear, dig them up immediately.
- Sod over the backfill. Once the hole is packed tightly with backfill and soil, install sod over it so the area matches the rest of your yard.