Family AnacardiaceaeThis is native to subtropical and tropical South America (southeastern Brazil, northern Argentina and Paraguay). Common names include Brazilian pepper, aroeira, rose pepper, and Christmasberry.
Brazilian pepper is a sprawling shrub or small tree, with a shallow root system, reaching a height of 7–10 m. Its plastic morphology allows it to thrive in all kinds of ecosystems. The plant is dioecious, with small white flowers borne profusely in axillary clusters. The fruit is a small red spherical drupe 4–5 mm diameter, carried in dense clusters of hundreds of berries.
Like many other species in the family Anacardiaceae, Brazilian pepper has an aromatic sap that can cause skin reactions (similar to poison ivy burns) in some sensitive people.
Although it is not a true pepper, its dried drupes are often sold as pink peppercorns, as are the fruits from the related species Schinus molle (Peruvian peppertree). The seeds can be used as a spice, adding a pepper-like taste to food. They are usually sold in a dry state and have a bright pink color. They are less often sold pickled in brine, where they have a dull, almost green hue.
In the United States, it has been introduced to California, Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana and Florida. Planted originally as an ornamental outside of its native range, Brazilian pepper has become widespread and is considered an invasive species in many subtropical regions with moderate to high rainfall, including parts or all of Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, southern China, Cuba, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Puerto Rico, Réunion, South Africa, and the United States. In drier areas, such as Israel and southern California, it is also grown but has not generally proved invasive. In California, it is considered invasive in coastal regions by the California Invasive Plant Council (www.cal-ipc.org.)
Brazilian pepper is hard to control because it produces basal shoots if the trunk is cut. Trees also produce abundant seeds that are dispersed by birds and ants. It is this same hardiness that makes the tree highly useful for reforestation in its native environment but which enables it to become invasive outside of its natural range.