Sappy Holidays – The Brazilian Pepper Originally Posted 12/19/2011 by Jungle Pete
As a child growing up in South Florida I had the good fortune of living on a 10-acre rural sanctuary for primates, operated by my parents. The property was covered with native Slash Pines (Pinus elliotti), Cabbage Palms (Sabal palmetto) and Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), but was persistently threatened by the noxious weed of a tree known as Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolis). As a human primate, I had far more freedoms than the other inhabitants and like a modern day Jungle Boy I would often take to the trees and explore. There were times when the property had become so overgrown with what some call “Florida Holly” that I could ascend into the canopy of the pepper trees and climb from tree to tree for several hundred feet.
The problem for a kid is you end up with ripped up jeans and sticky sap all over you, as well as the possibility of a poison ivy-like rash. The problem for the ecosystem is the highly invasive tree has spread throughout South Florida, establishing dense monocultures where little else grows.
Brazilian Pepper was introduced to Florida sometime in the mid-1800s as an ornamental. It grows natively in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Florida it flowers from September through November and by December has fire engine red berries that express a festive spirit around the holiday season, when Florida’s native hollies had already lost their rosy red fruit. Certainly the intent upon introduction was not malicious, but 160 years later the tree is so pervasive we could easily deck the halls with boughs of pepper if only it were legal to transport it.
Fortunately the tree is not cold tolerant. Unfortunately it produces an abundance of berries that are perfect holiday snacks for birds and mammals. They digest them and poop them elsewhere with homemade fertilizer.
Every year at this time, the sight of the bright evergreen leaves and candy cane red pepper berries brings me back to my days on the sanctuary, either climbing in the trees or hacking them down with machete or chainsaw.
I learned long ago that wherever I am for the holidays, I am perfectly content to celebrate it by enjoying it with native style and tradition. This year I’ll be enjoying the sun, the sand and berryless hollies. Happy Holidays.