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Products > Schinus molle
Schinus molle - California Pepper Tree
Image of Schinus molle
[2nd Image]
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Tree
Family: Anacardiaceae (Sumacs, Cashew)
Origin: Peru (South America)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloomtime: Summer
Height: 25-40 feet
Width: 25-40 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Seaside: Yes
Summer Dry: Yes
Deer Tolerant: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): No Irrigation required
Winter Hardiness: 10-15 F
Schinus molle (California Pepper Tree) An evergreen tree that grows 25-40 feet tall with rough twisted dark gray bark and a wide weeping habit, spreading as wide as tall. It has bright green pinnately compound leaves that are 5 to 12 inches long with many 1 to 2 inch-long narrow leaflets. The 1/8 inch wide fragrant whitish-yellow flowers bloom in branched pendulous panicles in summer and female trees (it is dioecious with male and female flowers on separate trees) producing 1/3-inch-wide red berries in the fall into winter.

Plant in full sun and irrigate very little or not at all. It is cardy to around 10F but in temperatures much below 20F the foliage freezes then turns brown but new green growth quickly appears in the spring. This tree tolerates many adverse conditions, like poor soil, smog, wind, drought and moderate frosts but the oils in the leaf litter from this tree deter understory growth, making it difficult to grow other plants beneath the canopy.

Schinus molle is most commonly called "California Pepper" because it is found growing throughout the state, both because it has been planted and also has reseeded, and this has led many to believe it native, but it actually comes from the Southern Andes at elevations up to around 12,000 feet from Peru south to Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and some reports list it native further north up to southern Mexico. Other common names for it include Peruvian Mastic Tree, Peruvian Peppertree, Escobilla, False Pepper, Molle del Peru, Peppercorn tree and Aroeira salsa, though this last common name is probably that of the closely related Schinus areira from Brasil that was once included as a variety of Schinus molle. The name for the genus comes from the Greek word 'schinos' a name for the related Mastic Tree (Pistacia lentiscus) which it resembles. The specific epithet is interpreted as being from the Latin word 'molle', meaning "soft" or more likely from a modification of the world 'mulli' , the name used to describe this tree by the Quechua Indians of Peru.

In Dr. Matt Ritter's wonderful book A Californians Guide to the Trees Among US (Heyday, 2011) it is noted that Schinus molle was first planted in California by Father Antonio Peyri in the early 1800's at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in Oceanside California. Some of the largest trees recorded in California include a 70 foot tall tree in Moorpark and one in San Juan Capistrano, that is considered the National Champion on the Official Registry of California Big Trees. It was measured in 2016 at 57 feet tall and 72 feet wide with a 367 inch trunk circumference. While an iconic an attractive tree in Central and Southern California, it is considered invasive by many, though not at a level in California that has mandated any control measures or regulation. It is also an alternate host to black scale, a serious Citrus pest and male trees produce abundant pollen which, when airborne, can cause problems with those that suffer from allergies so these issues should all be considered before planting this tree in an urban environment. 

This information about Schinus molle displayed on this web page is based on research we have conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations we have made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens visited, as well how our crops have performed in containers in the nursery field. Where appropriate, we will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share cultural information that would aid others in growing this plant.