Origin: Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay
Introduction to Florida: 1840s (Ornamental)
The family Anacardiaceae contains poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian peppertree. People sensitive to poison ivy, oak or sumac may also be allergic to Brazilian pepper tree because it also has the potential to cause dermatitis to those with sensitive skin. Some people have also expressed respiratory problems associated with the bloom period of pepper tree.
Brazilian peppertree is a shrub or small tree that reaches over 30 feet in height, typically with a short trunk hidden in a thicket of branches. Some trees can live over 30 years. The leaves are alternately arranged with 1-2 inch long, elliptic, and finely toothed leaflets. The leaves are also reddish, often possessing a reddish mid-rib. The flower clusters are white and 2-3 inches long with male and female flowers that look very similar. The glossy fruits are borne in clusters that are initially green, becoming bright red when ripe. Seeds are dark brown and 0.3 mm in diameter. Flowering occurs from September through November and fruits are usually mature by December.
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 peppertree. Brazilian peppertree 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.
The public should be notified to avoid cultivating, transplanting, or promote proliferation of Brazilian pepper. Care should also be exercised to avoid seed spread through disposal of cut trees. Due to its invasive nature, it is placed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection under section 62C-52.011 as a Class I -“Prohibited Aquatic Plant.” This law prohibits sale and or movement of this species.
A well established native cover or plant community is a way to suppress Brazilian peppertree. However, the rapid growth and high germination rates make Brazilian pepper-tree difficult to suppress from a cultural weed management standpoint.
When utilizing aggressive mechanical methods, the entire plant, particularly the root system, should be removed. Roots ¼ inch in diameter and larger are able to resprout and produce new plants, so follow-up from this type of control method will be necessary. Pepper-tree seeds cannot tolerate heat and will not germinate following a fire, but the plant has the potential to resprout after a fire from roots.
Two biological control agents are currently approved for use for Brazilian peppertree control in Florida, Pseudophilothrips ichini (Brazilian peppertree thrips) and Calophya latiforceps (Yellow Brazilian peppertree leaf galler). Both insects attack the growing shoots of Brazilian peppertree and can impact the growth of the plant. Research has shown that these insects are specific to Brazilian peppertree and are safe to use in Florida to control this invasive weed. Releases of the Brazilian peppertree thrips is ongoing in Florida and releases of the yellow Brazilian peppertree leaf galler are planned for the future.
Chemical methods for Brazilian peppertree control can be separated into soil residual, foliar and basal bark/cut stump treatments. Each of these will be discussed in detail in the following sections.