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Eyes on the Bay: Invasive Plants and Animals  »  Brazilian Peppers: Beautiful But Bad

Brazilian Pepper: Beautiful But Bad

Brazilian peppers were brought to this state in the 1890's and advocated for use as ornamental shrubs. People loved them and called them Florida holly. Now they dominate 700,000 acres from North Central to South Florida. Brazilian peppers cover more land in Florida than the infamous melaleuca which has wreaked havoc in the Everglades.

Floridians spend money to reclaim wetlands, pasture lands, fish-spawning waterfronts, nature preserves and residential property from Brazilian peppers. But the more these plants grow and spread, the bigger the problem and the more tax money it will eat up.

Brazilian peppers are on the State of Florida's prohibited plant list. It is illegal to cultivate, sell or transport them.

Brazilian Pepper: Beautiful But Bad

When these large shrubs or trees infest an area, they advance like armies, overwhelming everything in their paths.

They disrupt the interdependence of plants and animals crucial to their survival. Only the "invader" survives. Native plants and animals disappear.

Ill Effects of Brazilian Peppers

  • They kill other vegetation by forming dense thickets and by chemically suppressing the growth of understory plants.
  • They cut down on kinds and total numbers of wildlife by destroying their usual food and shelter.
  • They hurt shorelines by disturbing natural fish-breeding habitat. They crowd out valuable mangroves. Their shallow roots allow erosion.
  • They are members of the same family as poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Any part of the plant can cause skin irritation in some

How Brazilian Peppers Grow

  • They grow rapidly up to 10 feet per year.
  • They resprout if cut down.
  • Their roots are nearly impossible to dig up.
  • Their prolific seeds are widely distributed by birds and animals.
  • They are resistant to natural events like flooding, fire and drought.
  • They can grow in wet or dry soil, and are salt-tolerant.
  • Florida has no natural predators to keep them under control as they grow rapidly up to 10 feet per year here as in Brazil.

Brazilian Pepper: Beautiful But Bad

How To Identify Brazilian Peppers

  • Brazilian peppers (Schinus terebinthifolius) are large multi-trunk shrubs that can grow 40 feet tall.
  • They are evergreens with glossy, bright green leaves, nonleathery in texture. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine.
  • The leaves are "compound," meaning there are several leaflets arranged opposite each other on one stem. "Simple" leaf arrangement means one leaf on one stem.
  • Female Brazilian pepper trees produce sprays of small yellowish-white flowers in spring, followed by clusters of small red berries in late fall.


  • Pass the word about harmful invasive plants to others.
  • Learn to identify Brazilian peppers. Help with voluntary Brazilian pepper events scheduled by local environmental groups and colleges.
  • Don't eradicate a plant about which you are not certain. Ask for help.
  • Form neighborhood parties to learn effective procedures to get rid of Brazilian peppers, especially from natural preserves and waterfronts. Share the cost of materials with neighbors.
  • Brazilian peppers on land that borders water, or is wet at least part of the year, require special handling. These areas are protected by law.
  • Learn the names of some other villians in Florida. Just being aware of these names will help in the struggle against bad invasive species:
    • Air potato
    • Australian pine
    • Carrotwood
    • Catclaw mimosa
    • Chinese tallow
    • Cogon grass
    • Earleaf acacia
    • Lather leaf
    • Lead tree
    • Melaleuca
    • Schefflera
    • Skunk vine
    • Tropical soda apple
  • Be careful to avoid invasive species when you select new plants for your garden.
  • Learn the use of native plants in landscaping. These provide food and shelter for wildlife, and maintain Florida's unique natural beauty and biological diversity. Once established in suitable habitats, these typically do not need watering. Whenever you see a tiny Brazilian pepper tree, pull it up.

DID YOU KNOW? The best way to learn to identify Brazilian peppers is to volunteer for a Brazilian pepper eradication party. Contact the TBEP for more information.

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