California Pepper Tree
Evergreen, Trees, Decorative fruit or berries
These medium-size evergreen trees are praised by some gardeners, heartily disliked by others. The two species discussed here differ markedly, though both are tolerant of many soils, and leaves of both can cause dermatitis. Female trees bear abundant, small red fruits that attract birds. S. molle is the most widely grown.
Native to the Peruvian Andes. Fast growth to 25–40 ft. tall and wide. Trunks of old trees are heavy and fantastically gnarled, with knots and burls that often sprout leaves or small branches. Heavy limbs support light, gracefully pendulous branchlets. Bright green leaves have many narrow leaflets to 2 in. long. Drooping, 4–6-in. clusters of tiny yellowish white summer flowers are followed by rosy berries in fall, winter. (Trees with nearly all male flowers do not bear fruit.) This tree produces copious litter, is subject to scale infestation, and has greedy surface roots that make it difficult to garden beneath. Nonetheless, it’s a fine choice for shading a play area or gravel-surfaced, outdoor living space. Just plant it away from paving, sewers, or drains, and give it room to spread. Among the brightest green trees in the desert. Planted at 2-ft. intervals, a row can be pruned into a graceful, billowy hedge. Susceptible to root rots, especially Texas root rot. Little or no water to moderate water. In Hawaii, best at higher elevations.
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