Potentially Misidentified Species:
The casual observer may mistake shoreline S. terebinthifolius stands for
stands of the red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle, due to superficially
similar physical appearance. Closer examination allows the species to be
S. terebinthifolius also bears some resemblance to some trees in the
mastic family, including the false mastic (Sideroxylon foetidissimum) with which
it co-occurs in the IRL watershed. The fruits of the mastic are larger than
those of Brazilian pepper, are yellow-orange in color, and edible with a gummy
II. HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The native South American range of S. terebinthifolius includes Brazil,
Argentina, and Paraguay (Langeland and Burks 1998). It has elsewhere, often intentionally for
purposes of cultivation. More than 20 years ago Brazilian pepper had already
been reported as successfully naturalized in over 20 countries occupying the
sub-tropical belts (15-30°) of both the northern and southern hemisphere (Ewel et al. 1982).
Within the U.S., Brazilian pepper is a highly invasive species in
Florida and Hawaii. It is still grown as an ornamental plant in Texas,
Louisiana, Arizona, and California. The Florida distribution of S. terebinthifolius now
includes most of the peninsula, extending north to at least Levy County on the
Gulf coast and all the way to the Florida-Georgia border on the Atlantic coast.
Within its introduced range, S. terebinthifolius readily invades a wide
variety of natural, disturbed, and urbanized habitats in mesic to wet lowland
environments, including coastal shorelines, riparian zones, wetlands, forested
areas, scrub, range/grasslands, agricultural lands, and urban spaces (Woodall
1982, Laroche 1994, Langeland and Burks 1998).
S. terebinthifolius is well-established within all six IRL watershed counties.
III. LIFE HISTORY AND POPULATION BIOLOGY
Age, Size, Lifespan:
S. terebinthifolius is often encountered as a shrub or small tree
growing to a height of 3-7 m. It can grow to be substantially taller, to as
much as 13 m (Ferriter 1997, Langeland and Burks 1998). Some individuals can
live as long as 35 years (Hall et al. 2006).
By the mid-1990s, S. terebinthifolius was estimated to occupy more than
280,000 ha in central and south Florida (Wunderlin et al. 1995, Ferriter
Plants become reproductive about three years after germination (Hall et al.
2006). Although Ewel et al. (1982) note a small number of Brazilian pepper
trees in a population may produce some monoecious or 'complete' flowers (both
sexes present), S. terebinthifolius is primarily a dioecious species
with male and female flowers occurring on separate male and female trees
Male flowers only last 1 day, while female flowers can last up to 6 days (Hall
et al. 2006).The plant depends on diurnal insect pollinators including a number
of true flies, bees and wasps, and butterflies. The syrphid fly Palpada
vinetorum may be particularly important. Outcrossing is the general rule
for the species (Ferriter 1997).
The main flowering season occurs from September to October or November,
although in Florida some plants can usually be seen in flower an any time of
year. Large numbers of small flowers are produced. This is followed by a
winter period of fruit production from November through February during which
female trees produce a tremendous amount of fruit that may persist ripe for as
much as 8 months. A small number of trees (less than 10%) also flower from
March to May (Ewel et al. 1982, Ferriter 1997, Langland and Burks 1998, Hall et
Ripe fruits are consumed by birds and mammals and this is an important dispersal route for the seeds. Germination success is enhanced if seeds are exposed to dilute acid in the lab, and seed passage through the acidic environment of an animal's digestive tract may have a similar positive effect (Hall et al. 2006). Water and gravity are secondary dispersal agents (Ewel et al. 1982, Ferriter 1997).
Seedling survival rate is high and seedlings rapidly take advantage of canopy
breaks to gain a foothold in new area (Hall et al. 2006).
IV. PHYSICAL TOLERANCES
Brazilian pepper has thrived in many subtropical areas into which it has been
introduced, but cold intolerance precludes expansion of the species into more
temperate regions (Ferriter 1997). Cold sensitivity also restricts the
distribution of S. terebinthifolius to somewhat protected sites in
central Florida (Hall et al. 2006).
S. terebinthifolius is only moderately halotolerant. Seeds fail to
germinate and tansplanted seedlings are killed off at salinities exceeding 5
ppt (Mytinger and Williamson 1987). While salinity intolerance tends to
exclude Brazilian pepper from the leading (seaward) edge of intact mangrove
stands along unaltered estuarine shorelines, the species readily invades
mangrove stands lining low-salinity ditches, impoundments and other
hydrologically altered habitats (Ferriter 1997).
Brazilian pepper exhibits only marginal tolerance for flooding. Seedlings
display more flood tolerance than mature trees, but prolonged inundation
stresses mature trees and seedlings and can cause mortality (Ferriter 1997,
Hall et al. 2006). LaRossa et al. (1992) report S. terebinthifolius
does not occur in those Everglades National Park wetlands and marshes where the
hydroperiod persists more than six months.
S. terebinthifolius seeds are readily killed by fire. Seedlings and
saplings are killed back by fire as well, though approximately 20% of seedlings
resprout after a fire. In contrast, fire has proven to be a poor control tool
for mature peppers (trees greater than 1 m tall. Fire management programs has
been shown effective if they target plants before that attain fire-resistant
heights (Nilsen and Muller 1980, Loope and Dunevitz 1981, Ferriter 1997, Hall
et al. 2006).
V. COMMUNITY ECOLOGY
Brazilian pepper relies on a variety of insects to pollinate its flowers and
fruit-eating birds and mammals to disperse its seeds. It tends to outcompete
and crowd out other types of vegetation as it grows into and overtakes both
natural and disturbed areas.
VI. INVASION INFORMATION
The bright red fruit, shiny green leaves, and ease of cultivation led to
widespread use of Brazilian pepper as an ornamental plant as far back as the
mid-19th century. The plant was listed in seed catalogs as early as 1832 and
was imported to Florida as a cultivated ornamental some time in the 1840s
(Barkley 1944, Mack 1991, Hall et al. 2006).
Brazilian pepper apparently remained under controlled cultivation in Florida
for approximately the next 80 years. Then, in the mid-1920s a horticulture
hobbyist living in Punta Gorda gave hundreds of seedling pepper plants he had
grown away to friends who planted them in their yards and along Florida city
streets Morton 1978, Ferriter 1997). Even so, Ewel et al. (1982) note that
S. terebinthifolius did not become conspicuous as an invasive pest until
the 1950s. A survey of the plants of the Everglades by Davis (1942) made no
mention of Brazilian pepper. By 1969, however Everglades National Park staff
biologists had recognized the threat posed by S. terebinthifolius and
its capacity to invade and dominate the natural areas of much of south Florida
(Morton 1978, Ferriter 1997).
The spread of Brazilian pepper has been facilitated by several attributes of
the plant. Plants respond to damage by sprouting new growth from the damaged
area, giving rise to tenacious multiple-trunked trees (Ferriter 1997).
Dispersal of S. terebinthifolius into new areas is also greatly
facilitated by transport of seeds by several frugivorous birds. Large numbers
of migrating robins (Turdus migratorius) consume tremendous numbers of
S. terebinthifolius fruits and deposit the seeds some distance from the
parent tree. Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos), cedarbirds
(Bombycilla cedrorum), catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis), and
other fruit-eating species further aid in Brazilian pepper seed dispersal
(Austin 1978, Ewel et al. 1982, Ferriter 1997).
Potential to Compete With Natives:
Brazilian pepper is listed as a Category I invasive exotic plant in Florida, indicating that
the species is currently altering native plant communities by displacing native
species and changing community structures or ecological functions. S.
terebinthifolius is also listed by ISSG as as among "100 of the Worst" global invasive organisms.
Once it invades an area, S. terebinthifolius can quickly form dense,
monotypic stands that shade out or physically exclude native species. This
typically lowers the habitat value for the animals associated with the natice
system, and may dramatically alter natural fire regimes as well (Florida
Department of Environmental Protection). A number of natural Florida
communities are susceptible to invasion by S. terebinthifolius. Even
mature mangrove stands and upland forests are vulnerable to infestation (EPPO
Reporting Service 2005).
Allelopathy (chemical inhibition of potential competing species) has long been
suspected in S. terebinthifolius, based on the well-documented ability
of the leaves, flowers, and fruits to produce or accumulate chemical irritants
(Gogue et al. 1974, Morton 1978, Ewel et al. 1982). Morgan and Overholt
(2005) demonstrated that aqueous extracts from the leaves of Brazilian peppers
could suppress germination and growth of some native Florida plant species
under laboratory conditions. Field evidence confirming allalopathy and
quantifying its contribution to the competitive success of S.
terebinthifolius remain lacking.
S. terebinthifolius in Florida has displaced local populations of
imperiled species including the federally listed (Endangered) beach
clustervine, Jacquemontia reclinata, and the state listed
(Endangered) beach star, Remirea
maritima (Langeland and Burks 1998). Curnutt (1989 reports that both
abundance and diversity of birds communities were lower in areas dominated
byS. terebinthifolius than in native pinelands and forest-edge habitats.
Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion:
Arguments can be made that Brazilian pepper is of some potential or actual
positive economic value.Historically, S. terebinthifolius was of
economic benefit as a cultivated landscape ornamental. Commercial use was
banned in 1990, but utilization as an ornamental plant had ceased well before this time (Ferriter 1997).
Utilization as a commercial timber species is impractical for a number of
reasons, including poor strength characteristics and harvesting and processing
difficulties. Limited exploration of the possibility of harvesting Brazilian
pepper for the paper pulp industry has been conducted (Morton 1978).
In its native range, Brazilian pepper is used in a variety of folk remedies for
an array of ailments including skin ulcers, bronchitis, gout, arthritis,
diarrhea and infertility (Morton 1978).
Florida S. terebinthifolius populations are perhaps most valuable for
the role they play in the state's honey industry. It is an efficient producer
of nectar even if the honey it produces is not universally regarded as high
quality (Sanford 1988). S. terebinthifolius
is important for winter honeybee colony maintenance and that Florida beekeepers
sold from 6 to 8 million pounds of Brazilian pepper honey each year (Ferriter 1997).
Of course, the actual or potential positive economic aspects of S.
terebinthifolius in Florida must be considered along with the negative
consequences of infestation. Federal, state, and local government agencies and
a number of private conservation groups spend untold sums of money and time on
Brazilian pepper control efforts. Mechanical harvesting and hand-application
of herbicide to cut stumps are typical components of most Brazilian pepper
removal programs and both are costly. Furthermore, the tendency of
S. terebinthifolius to resprout from cut stumps, even after herbicide
application, necessitates expensive follow-up treatments.
In addition to the direct costs associated with S. terebinthifolius
removal, the negative impacts on Florida's nature-based tourist industry must
be considered. S. terebinthifolius infestation reduces biodiversity and
habitat value for associated wildlife, therefore diminishing the value of
Florida wildlands as eco-tourism destinations.
There is also some negative cost associated with human health impacts related
to Brazilian peppers. Some individuals experience allergic reactions or
contact dermatitis when they encounter the leaves or sap. Additionally, the
smoke from burning Brazilian peppers is noxious and may cause or exacerbate
respiratory ailments (Morton 1978, Ewel et al. 1982, Ferriter 1997).
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Environmental Conservation 5:25-34.
Barkley, F.A. 1944. Schinus L. Brittonia 5:160-198.
Curnutt J.L. 1989. Breeding bird use of a mature stand of Brazilian pepper.
Florida Field Naturalist. 17: 53-76.
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Ewel J.J., Ojima D.S., Karl D.A., and W.F. DeBusk. 1982. Schinus in
successional ecosystems of Everglades National Park. South Florida Research
Center Report T-676, Everglades National Park. 141 p.
Ferriter A. (Ed.). 1997. Brazilian pepper management for Florida, A report from
the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's Brazilian Pepper Task Force. FLEPPC.
Gogue G.J., Hurst C.J., and L. Bancroft. 1974. Growth inhibition by Schinus
terebinthifolius. HortScience 9:301 (abstract).
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of Hawai'i: Management and Research. University of Hawaii Cooperative National
Park Resources Studies Unit, Honolulu.
Loope L.L. and V.L. Dunevitz. 1981. Impact of fire exclusion and invasion on
Schinus terebinthifolius on limestone rockland pine forests of
southeastern Florida. Report T-645, South Florida Research Center. Everglades
National Park, Homestead.
Mack R.N. 1991. The commercial seed trade: An early dispenser of weeds in the
United States. Economic Botany 45:257-273.
Morgan E.C. and W.A. Overholt. 2005. Potential allelopathic effects of
Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi, Anacardiaceae) aqueous
extract on germination and growth of selected Florida native plants. Journal of
the Torrey Botanical Society 132:11-15.
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Nilsen, E. and W. Muller. 1980. A comparison of the relative naturalization
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686. Available online.
Woodall S.L. 1982. Herbicide tests for control of Brazilian-Pepper and
Melaleuca in Florida. Southeastern Forest Experiment Station, Asheville, NC.
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plants. Available online.
J. Masterson, Smithsonian Marine Station
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Page last updated: July 31, 2007