By Dale Armstrong, Coordinator Florida Yards & Neighborhoods
Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius, is a fast-growing, multi-trunked shrub or tree that can grow to 30 feet or more in height. In the past, it has commonly been called “Florida Holly”, probably because of the attractive clusters of red berries produced in winter. However, it is neither from Florida nor is it a holly. It is in fact, an alien species from Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.
Actually, we refer to a non-native species as an exotic rather than alien. And when an exotic has the ability to outgrow native species in Florida, we call it invasive. Brazilian pepper certainly qualifies as invasive. Most likely everyone has seen thick growths of Brazilian pepper where virtually all other plants have been smothered and died. Since there are no natural controls here other than freezing temperatures, Brazilian pepper grows unrestrained in south and central Florida.
Controlling this runaway plant in natural areas is difficult and costly, especially in large, remote areas. There isn’t a park or preserve in Pinellas County that does not have to deal with controlling Brazilian pepper and other non-native invasive species. In the home landscape many homeowners do not realize that their Brazilian pepper tree may be spreading thousands of seeds throughout their neighborhood and into natural areas via birds and other wildlife. And when an owner does become aware of the nature of this tree and is interested in getting rid it, the process tends to be expensive. Trees can be cut down and removed, but the stump and roots will re-sprout if not completely removed or treated with herbicides.
You can help by learning to identify Brazilian pepper, both seedlings and mature plants. Many seedlings grow amongst existing landscape plants and are watered, fertilized, and pruned along with other plants in the bed by unsuspecting homeowners and landscape company personnel. Removing seedlings while small is much easier and less costly than dealing with a large tree or shrub later. Brazilian pepper is in the same family as poison ivy, so use caution if you personally handle any part of the plant.
There is much information available to you about Brazilian pepper and other invasive plant species. Certainly Pinellas County Extension is an excellent source for literature and advice from staff, but in addition I have included other resources below.