Answer: There are two types of pepper trees commonly grown in California. One is the California Pepper Tree (Schinus molle) and the other is the Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthfolius). Both have attractive pendulous branches, colorful berries and provide useful shade with their broad profiles. The California Pepper grows to from 25' - 40' tall and spreads wider. The shaggy bark is decorative and the branches gnarl in an ornamental way. The drooping branches dangle in a weeping form like a drought tolerant version of a willow. A tough and resilient tree, the California Pepper does well in poor, dry soil and enjoys full, hot sun. It is a relatively fast grower and looks attractive whether small or full grown.
The Brazilian Pepper usually grows a little shorter than the California Pepper. It looks similar but has slightly larger and darker leaves and the berries are larger. It doesn?t tend to have the uniform weeping appearance of the California Pepper, but it is an attractive, smaller growing tree. The berries are sometimes dried and sold as pink peppercorns though they are not in the true pepper family (Piper). This tree is also very invasive in some areas and is considered a serious pest in coastal California. So be careful where you plant it.
Because the heads of these trees grow so densly, they make excellent barriers to block neighbors. Both Schinus trees can take light frost and the Shinus molle can even handle nighttime winter cold into the low 20?s F. Peppers can send out surface roots so don?t plant them where they can damage cement work or create a hazard for walking.
Given the reputation of pepper trees in San Diego, I think I'd plant something else in my garden!
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