Peruvian pepper, false pepper
Peruvian pepper, false pepper (Eng), pimentero falso, pimentero (Spa), pebrer bord, fals pebrer (Cat), pimenteira, pimenteira-bastarda (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? Its fruit serves as a substitute for red peppercorns.
This tree of around 10 m in height, which can be as much as 25 m tall in its native range, has scaly, brown, greyish or reddish coloured bark, and elegant hanging branches. The entire plant generates a very aromatic resin that can be appreciated when breaking a leaf or twig. The leaves are persistent, opposite and compound, with 8-20 pairs of leaflets and a terminal one (odd-pinnate). Together the leaves are 10-30 cm long, while the leaflets are linear or linear-lanceolate, serrated on the margin and curved at the tip. The flowers may be unisexual or hermaphrodite, with five whitish petals that are arranged in elongated terminal clusters. They bloom in the spring, although in very mild climates they can flower all year round, with flowers present at the same time as fruits. The fruit appears in clusters; at first they are fleshy, but when ripe they are dry. They are 4-8 mm in diameter, globose, and acquire a characteristic pink or purplish tone. The outer skin is fragile, like a husk, and inside is a 3-5 mm diameter, globose seed.
This species is planted as an ornamental in gardens and avenues in the warm regions in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, but when it becomes established in the wild it grows at the edges of roads, along motorways, on slopes of disturbed land, and on boundaries, from sea level up to an altitude of 800 m. It is indifferent to soil type, although in Spain it occurs predominantly on limestone terrains. It is a warmth-loving plant that is very resistant to heat and prolonged drought, but which is greatly affected by frost.
The Peruvian pepper is an American tree native to the Andean region of South America. It ranges throughout tropical and subtropical areas, from southern Mexico to northern Chile and Argentina, but is especially abundant in Peru. It is currently found in most of the tropics, as well as warm or dry regions, where it has become established in the wild. It has even become an invasive species, nowadays being a real pest in parts of southern Africa and Australia. On the Iberian Peninsula and in the Balearic and Canary Islands it is often cultivated as an ornamental species, especially in the warmer areas around the Mediterranean coast. It becomes established in the wild relatively frequently, and makes an appearance in the Atlas of invasive alien plants of Spain. It is believed that it was introduced in ancient times by the Spanish conquistadors, but the first written reference to this is from the beginning of the 20th century.