Florida’s natural ecosystems are under threat from the invasion of non-native plants, which is contributing to the decline of native biotic communities throughout the state. One of the most aggressive of these invaders is the Brazilian Peppertree, which is encroaching on nearly all terrestrial ecosystems in central and southern Florida.
Native to Argentina and Brazil, the Brazilian Peppertree is a shrub or small tree that can grow up to 33 feet tall, with a short trunk usually hidden in a dense head of contorted, intertwining branches. The leaves have a reddish, sometimes winged midrib and give off a smell of turpentine when crushed. The plant has separate male and female flowers, with each sex occurring in clusters on separate plants. The fruits are in clusters, initially glossy, green, and juicy, but turning bright red on ripening and 6mm (.24in) wide. Birds and mammals are the main means of seed dispersal, and seedlings have a high rate of survival, with reproduction possible three years after germination and some trees living for up to 35 years.
Brazilian Peppertree was originally imported from South America in the 1840s as a small ornamental tree. Because it forms its bright red berries during December it is sometimes also called “Florida Holly” and used for Christmas decorations. It quickly spread into natural areas, taking over native tree hammocks, pine flatlands and mangrove forest communities.
The Brazilian Peppertree poses a significant threat to Florida’s ecosystems and economy, with its ability to outcompete native plant species and damage infrastructure. While homeowners can remove the tree, it is essential to dispose of it properly to prevent the spread of its seeds. It is best to cut down the trees when they are not fruiting to minimize the spread of seeds. Cut stump herbicide treatments are commonly used when removing the trees to prevent re-sprouting. Herbicides are also available that aid in the control of Brazilian Peppertrees, but only those that are recommended for this species should be used. For more information on chemical control, homeowners can contact the UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County office.
The impact of the Brazilian Peppertree invasion is evident in the degradation of Florida’s natural ecosystems. Along coastal areas in south and central Florida, where there were once ecologically productive mangrove communities, there are now pure stands of Brazilian Peppertrees. Scrub and pine flatwood communities are also being affected by this invasion. This tree is sensitive to cold temperatures and is more commonly found in South Florida and protected coastal areas. While seedlings are flood-tolerant, rapid changes in water levels up or down can cause some mortality.
In conclusion, the Brazilian Peppertree is a highly invasive species that is encroaching on Florida’s natural ecosystems and causing significant ecological and economic damage. Homeowners can take action to control this tree, but it is crucial to dispose of it properly and use only recommended herbicides for control. The UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County office can provide more information on this matter.