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A Way to Fight Brazilian Peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolia)

In Florida, Brazilian Peppertree is listed as a noxious weed and category-1 invasive plant according to Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC).  It was originally introduced to Florida from South America as a pretty ornamental shrub during the middle 1800’s.  Brazilian Pepper tree has now taken over large tracts of land over the entire southeastern United States and has colonized in Hawaii, Texas, Alabama, and parts of California.

The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (UF IFAS) has recently released a much-studied insect to help fight against Brazilian Peppertree.  This insect, Pseudophilothrips ichini, is the Brazilian Peppertree thrips.  It has been studied in quarantine for almost 20 years to ensure it would not become an invasive pest.

Brazilian pepper tree thrips on a pepper tree leaf

Brazilian Pepper Tree thrips on a leaf. Photo taken 07-09-19.

Some of the beneficial characteristics of the BTP thrips are:
  • They only eat Brazilian Peppertree.
  • They carry out their entire life cycle on this invasive host plant.
  • Brazilian Peppertree thrips are not toxic to any creatures which will eat them.
  • They slow and even kill the growing tips of Peppertrees, preventing them from setting seed.
Biological Control = Biocontrol
Ladybird beetles, or ladybugs, being released into a garden.

A student holds a bag full of ladybugs.

Using insects to control pests and pest plants is not new.  Think of all the ladybird beetles (a beneficial insect) released by school children to control aphids.  This type of pest control is called Biological Control, or Biocontrol for short.  Biocontrol can be defined as using a pests’ natural enemies to kill or control its growth without applying chemical pesticides or herbicides.  This can be cheaper than chemical treatments but may take more time.

We have seen nine similar types of biocontrol methods applied to control invasive air potato vine and tropical soda apple.  Both of these plants are aggressive category-1 exotic invasive plants (according to Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council).  There have also been biocontrols released against imported fire ants (find the Fire Ant Biocontrol UF EDIS publication Here).  And there are native biocontrols against tomato horn worm and white flies.  This is one reason why we should not always be so quick to spray chemicals. These pesticides kill the good bugs along with the bad bugs.

The Role of the Hayslip Laboratory

The research on Brazilian Peppertree thrips and their recent release took almost 20 years.  It was done at the UF/IFAS Norman C. Hayslip Biological Control Research & Containment Laboratory, BCRCL or The Hayslip Lab for short.  There were some huge hurdles the BCRC lab had to overcome over those years in order to get where we are today.  At one point, the lab was just about to close its doors due to lack of state funding.  St. Lucie County rancher, Bud Adams, and former Florida State Senator, Ken Pruitt, got together to form a plan to save the lab and its valuable research.  And that effort has paid off.  The Hayslip lab has done, and continues to do, invaluable research to help fight our most pressing invasive pest issues.

For more information on the UF/IFAS Norman C. Hayslip Biological Control Reasearch & Containment Laboratory, visit the lab website at: bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu

To learn more about Brazilian Pepeprtree and scientists who worked to release the thrips, visit here https:irrec.ifas,ufl.edu/Brazilian-peppertree-/

To learn which plants in Florida are considered invasive species, please visit the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council HERE.

To find more University of Florida publications on Biocontrol of FIre Ants, please visit our Electronic Data Information Sources web site HERE.