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Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi 1820
pronounced: SKY-nuss teh-rih-bin-thee-FOH-lee-uh
(Anacardiaceae – the mango family)
common name: Brazilian Pepper Tree
Schinus is from σχινος (schinos), a Greek name for the mastic tree, Pistacia lentiscus, another member of this family; terebinthifolius is botanical Latin for ‘leaves like the (Pistacia) terebinthus’ (turpentine tree).
The botanical name for this tree is very often given as Schinus terebinthifolius, even in official documents. This is almost certainly because people believe Schinus to be a masculine Latin noun, and therefore to require a masculine epithet, ending in -us. This is not so, as Schinus is Greek, and feminine!
This tree is a native of south-eastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay. It is a sprawling shrub or small tree, that can reach a height of 7–10 m. The branches can be upright, reclining, or nearly vine-like, all on the same tree. This allows it to thrive in all kinds of ecosystems from dunes to swamps, where it grows as a quasi-aquatic plant.
The leaves are alternate, to 17 cm long, pinnately compound with 5–13 leaflets. The leaflets are lanceolate to elliptic, 3–6 cm long and 2–3.5 cm broad, and have finely-toothed margins, an acute to rounded apex, and yellowish veins.
The plant is dioecious, with small white to cream flowers borne profusely in axillary clusters. The fruit is a small red spherical drupe 4–5 mm in diameter, carried in dense clusters that may bear hundreds of berries. There is variety, Schinus terebinthifolia var. acutifolia, whose leaves are larger (to 22 cm) with 7–15 leaflets, and which bears pink fruits.
Although it is not a true pepper (Piper), its fruits are often sold as pink peppercorns. The seeds can be used as a spice, adding a pepper-like taste to food. They are usually sold in a dry state, and they have a bright pink colour; occasionally they are sold pickled in brine, where they have a dull, almost green hue.
The timber does not have a significant commercial value, but in Brazil it is generally used for posts, round wood, stakes, pit props and wood pulp. It is also used as fuel, and for charcoal-making.
Planted originally as an ornamental outside its native range, Brazilian Pepper has become an invasive species in many subtropical regions with moderate to high rainfall. It is common in south-east Queensland, northern NSW and along the Swan River estuary in Western Australia. It is hard to control because it produces basal shoots if the trunk is cut. The abundant seeds are spread by birds and ants. In Florida, it has spread rapidly, replacing native plants like mangroves, with thousands of hectares occupied. Its growth habit allows it to climb over understorey trees and invade mature canopies, forming thickets that choke out most other plants.
The tree pictured is in Picnic Bay, on the nature strip in Birt Street, outside the rubbish tip.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2011
Page last updated 20th February 2018