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Brazilian Pepper Tree

UF/IFAS Update on Brazilian Peppertree Control

From the desk of the UF/IFAS researcher, here is the latest pointers for Brazilian Pepper Tree Control.

How does Brazilian Pepper impact the environment?

Brazilian peppertree, Schinus terebinthifolia, a relative of poison ivy, is one of the most damaging invasive weeds of agricultural and natural areas of Florida, Hawaii, and Texas (USA). Traditional control methods have failed to keep up with the spread of this invasive weed. Biological control presents an environmentally safe and cost-effective control method for invasive populations of this weed. USDA and University of Florida research discovered biological controls specific to this weed that will be safe and effective. Release of these agents has been delayed by regulatory procedures that have been underway since 2014.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service identified Brazilian peppertree as one of the most significant non-indigenous species currently impacting federally-listed threatened and endangered native plants throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Brazilian peppertree infests over 700,000 acres in Florida, including many sensitive habitats such as mangroves and sawgrass marshes in the Everglades.

Brazilian peppertree negatively impacts rare, native species such as clustervine, beach star, and the gopher tortoise.

What about human impacts and the coast to control it?

Brazilian peppertree causes allergic reactions and respiratory illness in sensitive people due to volatiles released by the leaves, flowers, and fruits. Ingestion of the leaves and fruits can have narcotic and toxic effects in grazing animals and birds

Chemical and mechanical control measures are costly and maintenance programs are required to prevent regrowth. Despite the expenditure of millions of dollars, traditional methods have been unable to stem the spread of this weed. While these control efforts continue, federal, state, and local land managers expend millions annually while waiting for better control options. Between 2010 and 2011, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) spent $ 7 million in herbicidal controls. In 2011, the South Florida Water Management District spent $1.7 million to control Brazilian peppertree. These budgets would have been larger if resources permitted.

What is the update on biological controls?

Two biological control species, a thrips (Pseudophilothrips ichini) and psyllid (Calophya latiforceps) have been found to be safe for release following intensive studies conducted by USDA and University of Florida scientists with more than 20 years’ experience conducting such assessments.

Following review of the science, the technical advisory group committee (or TAG) recommended release of both Brazilian pepper biological control agents. Both USDA/APHIS and US Fish and Wildlife endorse release of these agents as they issued a biological assessment. One of the final steps in the approval process is a 30 – day public comment period. While this regulatory process is delayed, the USDA and University of Florida continue to expend scarce resources to rear large colonies of these insects under secure quarantine conditions and land-managers and owners continue to struggle to control the weed.

Once released from quarantine and established, these biological control agents will be mass produced and provided to interested individuals throughout the invaded range at no cost. These populations will be self-sustaining, limited only by an abundant weed. Research indicates that both biological agents will reduce growth of plants and spread of the weed population by reducing reproduction.

Public Comments for the Release of Biological Controls to Brazilian Peppertree

The public comment period for the Brazilian peppertree biological control program is now open! It can be found by clicking here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/27/2019-03322/notice-of-availability-of-an-environmental-assessment-for-the-release-of-biological-control-of.  Please consider submitting your comments on the program.

Extension Agent pointers provided by Carey Minteer, Assistant Professor, Indian River Research and Education Center c.minteerkillian@ufl.edu