Broad-leaf pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius)

Also known as: Brazilian pepper tree

Broad-leaf pepper tree is a shrub or tree with bright red berries. It can cause allergic reactions in people and animals.

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How does this weed affect you?

Broad-leaf pepper tree is a fast growing tree.

In agricultural environments broad-leaf pepper tree:

  • shades out pasture
  • makes livestock movement and mustering difficult
  • blocks access to water
  • hosts horticultural diseases that affect mangoes and citrus trees.

In natural environments broad-leaf pepper tree:

  • spreads quickly in disturbed bushland
  • outcompetes native plants including grasses, ground covers and shrubs
  • dominates the understorey reducing food and shelter for native animals.

Human health

The sap of the tree contains urushiols, which are toxic. It is a relative of the rhus tree (Toxicodendron succedaneum) and poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron). Being near the tree when its flowering or touching the sap can cause:

  • severe itching
  • lesions
  • rashes
  • a red and swollen face
  • oozing sores
  • welts
  • breathing difficulties.

The leaves and fruit contain other unidentified toxins that can cause gastroenteritis in humans.

What to do if a person is poisoned:
  • If the patient is unconscious, unresponsive or having difficulty breathing dial 000 or get to the emergency section of a hospital immediately.
  • If the patient is conscious and responsive call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 or your doctor.
  • If going to a hospital take a piece of the plant for identification.

Livestock poisoning

The sap can cause dermatitis in horses, cattle and dogs. Horses resting beneath the trees can develop dermatitis and swollen faces. The leaves and fruit contain other unidentified toxins that can cause gastroenteritis in cattle and horses, but livestock rarely eat the plant. In Florida in the USA, many birds have died from eating the fruit.

What does it look like?

Broad-leaf pepper tree is a broad-topped, fast growing, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree. It usually grows 1–6 m tall but can be up to 15 m tall. Plants are either male or female. Only the female plants produce berries. Plants can live for up to 35 years.

Leaves:

Leaves are made up of 3-9 leaflets which are:

  • dark green
  • oval shaped with a very prominent midrib
  • opposite, with a single (slightly larger) leaflet at the tip
  • often with a slightly winged stem
  • peppery smelling, especially when crushed.

Flowers are:

  • white surrounded by greenish-yellow sepals
  • small with petals about 2 mm long
  • mostly present in autumn but can grow year-round.

Fruit are:

  • on female trees
  • 4–5 mm wide
  • green when immature
  • bright-red when mature with one kidney shaped seed
  • peppery smelling.
  • present over winter.

Where is it found?

Broad-leaf pepper tree grows across north eastern NSW. There are isolated plants in northern NSW in the North Coast and Mid-North Coast Regions. It is spreading into National Parks and Nature Reserves in the Tweed Shire. 

It is native to South America and was brought to Australia as an ornamental plant. Broad-leaf pepper tree is also an invasive weed in Queensland and in other countries including the USA, Bahamas and South Africa.

What type of environment does it grow in?

Broad-leaf pepper tree grows in a range of habitats, from mangrove forests to coastal sand dunes. It is a serious threat to coastal regions, riparian zones and wetlands and it forms thickets around waterholes.

It is shade tolerant. It spreads quickly on waterlogged and poorly drained soils but will also grow on drier soils in high rainfall areas.

Maps and records

  • Recorded presence of Broad-leaf pepper tree during property inspections (Map: Biosecurity Information System - Weeds, 2017-2020)
    These records are made by authorised officers during property inspections under the Biosecurity Act 2015. Officers record the presence of priority weeds in their council area and provide this to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Records reflect the presence of the weed on the date of inspection.

  • Estimated distribution of Broad-leaf pepper tree in NSW (Map: NSW Noxious Weed Local Control Authorities, 2010)
    Map shows weed distribution and density estimated by local council weeds officers in 2010.

How does it spread?

The tree was introduced to Australia as an ornamental plant and was previously sold in nurseries. Most infestations found can be traced back to mature cultivated trees.

By seed

Birds and mammals eat the bright red berries and spread the seed. Seeds that have been defecated by birds are much more viable than seeds in intact fruit. 

Fruit can float and seeds are spread by both saltwater and fresh water. Seeds are still viable after fruit have floated in salty water for a week.

Seeds are usually viable for up to 9 months.  

By plant parts

Broad-leaf pepper tree can produce suckers from roots. 

References

Anderson, T., Diatloff, G. and Panetta, D. (1998). Broadleaved pepper tree Schinus Terebinthifolius Control in grazing situations. Proceedings of the 6th QLD Weeds Symposium pp. 178-179.

Anderson, T. and Willshere L. (1998). Broadleaved pepper tree and its control. QLD Department of Natural Resource report, Brisbane.

Csurhes, S. and Edwards, R. (1998). Potential environmental Weeds Program. Environment Australia, Canberra.

Donnelly, M. J., & Walters, L. J. (2008). Water and boating activity as dispersal vectors for Schinus terebinthifolius (Brazilian pepper) seeds in freshwater and estuarine habitats. Estuaries and coasts31(5), 960.

Gioeli, P. and Langeland, K. (1997). Brazilian pepper-tree control, University of Florida, Cooperative extension Service. Fact sheet SS-AGR-17.

McKenzie, R. (2012). Australia's poisonous plants, fungi and cyanobacteria: a guide to species of medical and veterinary importance. CSIRO.

Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)  http://www.hear.org/pier/scinames.htm

Panetta, F. D., & McKee, J. (1997). Recruitment of the invasive ornamental, Schinus terebinthifolius, is dependent upon frugivores. Australian Journal of Ecology22(4), 432-438.

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Control

Successful weed control requires follow up after the initial efforts. This means looking for and killing regrowth or new seedlings. Using a combination of control methods is usually more successful.

 To tackle Broad-leaf pepper tree:

  • control plants before they fruit in winter to stop seed set
  • control seedlings before they are three years old and start producing fruit.

Physical removal

Hand pull or dig out isolated seedlings. Cut down large trees and remove the stump. Wear personnel protective clothing and equipment and avoid contact with the sap.

Chemical control

Spraying

When: A foliar spray during winter, when the plant is at early fruiting stage is most effective.

Avoid spray contact with desirable species.

Basal barking

Apply herbicide mixed with diesel to cover the lower stem, all the way around.

Cut stump method

Cut trunks or stems and apply herbicide to the stump immediately (within 15 seconds of cutting).

Stem injection

Drill or make cuts into the sapwood and fill with herbicide immediately (within 15 seconds of making the cut).

Herbicide options

WARNING - ALWAYS READ THE LABEL
Users of agricultural or veterinary chemical products must always read the label and any permit, before using the product, and strictly comply with the directions on the label and the conditions of any permit. Users are not absolved from compliance with the directions on the label or the conditions of the permit by reason of any statement made or not made in this information. To view permits or product labels go to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website www.apvma.gov.au

See Using herbicides for more information.


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 50 parts water
Comments: Spray seedlings and coppice shoots.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


PERMIT 9907 Expires 31/03/2025
Glyphosate 360 g/L (Roundup®)
Rate: 1 part glyphosate to 1.5 parts water
Comments: Cut stump/scrape stem application for saplings. Stem injection application large trees and shrubs.
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: M, Inhibitors of EPSP synthase
Resistance risk: Moderate


Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Starane™ Advanced)
Rate: 2.1 L per 100 L of diesel
Comments: Basal bark application.
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Fluroxypyr 333 g/L (Starane™ Advanced)
Rate: 300 mL per 100 L water
Comments: Foliar spray.
Withholding period: 7 days.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


Picloram 44.7 g/kg + Aminopyralid 4.47 g/L (Vigilant II ®)
Rate: Undiluted
Comments: Cut stump/stem injection application. Apply a 3–5 mm layer of gel for stems less than 20 mm. Apply 5 mm layer on stems above 20 mm .
Withholding period: Nil.
Herbicide group: I, Disruptors of plant cell growth (synthetic auxins)
Resistance risk: Moderate


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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.
North Coast
Exclusion zone: whole region excluding the core infestation area of Richmond Valley Council, Ballina Shire Council, Lismore Council, Kyogle Council, Byron Shire Council and Tweed Shire Council
Regional Recommended Measure*
Whole region: The plant or parts of the plant should not be traded, carried, grown or released into the environment. Exclusion zone: The plant should be eradicated from the land and the land kept free of the plant. Land managers should mitigate the risk of the plant being introduced to their land. Core infestation area: Land managers should reduce impacts from the plant on priority assets.
*To see the Regional Strategic Weeds Management Plans containing demonstrated outcomes that fulfill the general biosecurity duty for this weed click here

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For technical advice and assistance with identification please contact your local council weeds officer.
For further information call the NSW DPI Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244 or send an email to weeds@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Reviewed 2020