The Brazilian Pepper-tree, also known as the Florida Holly or Christmasberry, is classified in the same family as Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac. The tree was originally brought to Florida for decorative purposes due to its bright green leaves and red berries, which is commonly used during Christmas time. The red berries were also dried and used in peppercorn blend cooking spices.
A Brazilian Pepper-tree is a relatively small tree that looks like a wide reaching shrub with white flowers that bloom during September through November. The leaves are a bright green color with a distinctive white vein that runs the entire length of the center of the leaf. Glossy looking berries grow in clusters that are initially a green color but turn bright red during the month of December.
The Brazilian Pepper-tree does not affect the average person in the same way as poison oak, ivy, or sumac. Many people, however, suffer allergic reactions to the tree. Common allergic reactions include varying degrees of skin, throat, and lung irritation.
A Brazilian Pepper-tree is non-native to the state of Florida. The natural native origins of the tree include Argentine, Brazil, and Paraguay.
A Brazilian Pepper-tree is extremely aggressive, widespread throughout Florida, and is officially classified as an invasive tree. The tree invades and dominates other previously established plant and tree communities, especially after an area has been disturbed as a result of construction, fire, or a severe storm. The tree forms a thick canopy with wide reaching entangling branches that prevents light and water from reaching natural native plants. Native plants and trees are not equipped to defend against or co-exist with non-native invasive trees.
Lack of Predators
A major reason for the trees aggressive nature is due to lack of predators. Animals actually help the tree thrive over great distances by consuming the berries and then disposing of the undigested seeds which becomes germinated while within the animal’s stomach. In the native area where the tree grows naturally several hundred insects are known to feed on the tree’s leaves and roots. The insects are, however, non-native to Florida so they may not be imported because the result of an introduction of a large amount of non-native insects remains unknown.
It is illegal to import, transplant, or cultivate a Brazilian Pepper-tree. When removing a Brazilian Pepper-tree, remove the entire root system and completely contain every seed.
Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants