By in Gardening

Pick a Pepper Tree

I'm hoping this is a pepper tree. Larry Moore Park is full of them right now. The reddish-pink fruits which hang in clusters from branches full of bright green leaves almost make them look like decorated Christmas trees, except for their shape. Supposedly two kinds of pepper trees are widely grown in California – the Peruvian Pepper (Schinus molle) and the Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolis). The trees in the park almost seem to be a cross between the two. Both are from the sumac family, just like poison sumac, and some people can contract dermatitis from the leaves.

The Peruvian Pepper (also known as the California Pepper) is known for its gnarled truck, but I wasn't looking at the trunk when I took these photos. There were other plants that blocked my view of the trunk. I'll have to specifically look for this next time I visit the park. Its long leafy branches hang downward and have narrow pointed leaves. Their branches almost look like vines. Their fruits are pink or coral. Sometimes the fruits, which are aromatic and spicy, are sold as pink peppercorns, but too many can be toxic or cause gastric distress, and some people are allergic to them.

I took the photo.

Above is the pepper tree in the park

The Brazilian Pepper has shorter branches and the leaves are more oval shaped. I believe the fruits are also a brighter red than those on the pepper trees in the park. But the more I look at the photos on Google, the more I think the park trees are closer to the Brazilian Pepper trees in leaf and branch shape. It just may be that it's not late enough in the season for the “peppercorns” to deepen in color yet. Eating the fruits can cause the same problems as eating those of the Peruvian Pepper tree.

The fruits of both are spread by the birds, who love them. That's why they sometimes grow like weeds. Be careful where you plant them because the roots grow close to the soil surface and really spread out. Keep them as far from sidewalks, plumbing, curbs,and buildings as you can to prevent damage to your property.

If anyone believes I'm wrong about this being a pepper tree and can give me a definite identification, I'd love to know it. Somehow the trees I see don't always neatly match the photos I see in books or online. I think they just may hybridize to disguise their true identity.

Pictures and content are original and may not be used without permission, B. Radisavljevic, Copyright 2014, All Rights Reserved

Image Credit » I took the photo and edited it.

You will need an account to comment - feel free to register or login.


bestwriter wrote on October 16, 2014, 4:28 AM

Are you talking about pepper that we use to make powder and put them on our eggs? If that is what you are saying then that pepper grows on creepers and I have loads of them in my garden.

Feisty56 wrote on October 16, 2014, 11:01 AM

Whatever the fruit of that tree is, it is certainly loaded with it! I hope you're soon able to cipher what tree it is.

Scorpie wrote on October 16, 2014, 11:29 AM

The thicker wider leaves make it look like schinus terebinthifolius.

Ruby3881 wrote on October 16, 2014, 1:32 PM

It's tough to tell from the photo, but I don't think it's the Brazilian pepper. The leaves don't look right - they seem thinner and they seem to be even, whereas I think the Brazilian pepper is an odd pinnate leaf.

JanetJenson wrote on October 16, 2014, 7:54 PM

I have never seen either of those trees before. How very kewl that you wrote about them here. They do look interesting.

BarbRad wrote on October 17, 2014, 12:34 AM

No. Using these as a spice is not recommended. It can cause irritation.

BarbRad wrote on October 17, 2014, 12:38 AM

I've been watching pepper trees all the way to southern California today as I see them by the side of the road. I think it must be a hybrid. The Brazilian pepper trees I saw had bright red berries and the trees had a different shape. So this must be closer to Peruvian. Maybe it's a younger tree and hasn't yet fully developed all the characteristics of older trees.

BarbRad wrote on October 17, 2014, 12:39 AM

I thought so, too, until I actually saw some of them today. They are quite different.

BarbRad wrote on October 17, 2014, 12:40 AM

I've also decided it's not Brazilian after seeing some I know are Brazilian today.

BarbRad wrote on October 17, 2014, 12:41 AM

I can't believe you've been in Southern California and haven't seen them. Maybe you pass through at the wrong time of year to see the fruits.

JanetJenson wrote on October 18, 2014, 2:47 AM

And/or I just don't get off the beaten track nearly often enough!

OldRoadsOnceTraveled wrote on October 23, 2014, 8:39 PM

This is Guiness the Cat. I wouldn't put it past a bunch of trees to try to hide their identity from you, especially pepper trees. They're sneaky critters, you know.

BarbRad wrote on October 24, 2014, 3:59 AM

This tree is hiding it pretty well.