False pepper - Schinus molle

False pepper - Schinus molle

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The false pepper

Small evergreen tree native to South America, the false pepper is also widespread in North America and Africa. It has an erect stem, single or multiple, very branched, with a slightly pendulous bearing and a wide, fairly disordered crown; the bark is gray in the young specimens, with the passing of the years it tends to detach itself in scales, and to show red-bronze zones; the leaves are large, pinnate-composed, 20-25 cm long, with lanceolate leaflets, dark green. In summer it produces cobs of small whitish flowers, which bloom at the leaf axil; in autumn the flowers give way to the fruits: small roundish berries of bright red color, very similar to pepper. All parts of the plant contain a very fragrant essential oil, with a smell similar to that of pepper, used in herbal medicine.

Schinus molle

The false pepper It is a persistent leaf tree belonging to the Anacardiaceae family. It comes from all over Latin America, although the areas in which it is most widespread in the spontaneous state are the South of Brazil, Uruguay and Northern Argentina.
One of its subspecies ("areira") comes instead from Chile, Bolivia and the Northeast of Argentina. Botanists are still uncertain whether to classify it as a subspecies or as an autonomous species.
In the places of origin it is considered of great interest both for its ornamental qualities and for the berries it produces. In Europe, on the other hand, it was introduced, at the end of the 19th century, mainly because it is very decorative in the Center-South and on the coasts and needs very little attention. It is in fact characterized by a very rapid growth and an incredible resistance to drought. To this we can add the undeniable advantage of quickly procuring an area with a not too dense shadow. Furthermore, it is considered a "clean" tree as it loses few leaves and the fruits remain on the branches for a long time: consequently, maintenance is very limited.
The Incas considered it a sacred tree. They called it "mulli" and this name then passed to Spanish and later became its botanical name. The genus name (which includes about thirty species), Schinus molle, is of Latin origin and unites this plant to the lentisk, which is rather similar to it due to the shape of the leaves and the fruits.

Family and gender
Anacardiaceae, gen. Schinus, sp. soft
Type of plant Tree, up to 15 meters, with persistent leaf
Exposure Full sun, even light shade in the South
Rustic Slightly rustic, up to -3 ° C (for a short time)
Ground Not demanding, even poor, but always well drained
Irrigation Only the first few years, then very resistant to drought
Composting With organic soil improver, autumn and late spring
colors Yellow and green flowers
Flowering July August
Collection October-November


These plants love very bright and sunny positions, they can be planted even in partial shade; the trees of schinus molle they can withstand a few degrees below zero, but during particularly cold winters it is good to protect them, especially when it comes to young specimens. Small trees may need a guard when they are planted; to encourage the development of multiple trunks it is possible to cut young plants at 25-30 cm from the ground in autumn.
The schinus molle prefers warm and sunny locations. This type of exposure is practically the only one possible in the Center and in the mild areas of the North.
In the South, instead, it is possible to position it even where it is slightly shaded.


These plants can withstand even long periods of drought without problems, but to have an abundant flowering it is however advisable to water them regularly, especially in the first two or three years after planting the plant. In spring it is good to bury well-ripe organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant, or to spread around the trunk a slow release granular fertilizer.
As we have said, it is extremely resistant to drought, especially when it is well stabilized.
In the first two or three years it is advisable to irrigate with a certain regularity, in the absence of precipitation (especially in the southern regions).
After this period we can consider the tree completely autonomous.

False pepper characteristics

The false pepper is a medium-sized tree: generally it is between 7 and 15 meters high. The general habit is waning and vaguely reminiscent of the weeping willow. The bark has colors ranging from medium brown to gray, very rough; it flakes in rather large plates. The leaves are alternate and are persistent where temperatures never fall below freezing level. They can be paripinnate or imparipennate, up to 28 cm long. They are composed of a minimum of 10 leaflets, up to 39, lanceolate, up to 5 centimeters long and a maximum of 0.5 mm wide, with pointed or rounded apex. Generally they are glabrous and the appearance is very similar to that of tissue paper.
It blooms between June and July (in places of origin instead between October and November): the inflorescences, which appear both at the apexes and at the leaf axil, are very ramified, large and decombant. The individual flowers are small and with colors ranging from greenish white to light yellow.
Both the leaves and the inflorescences, if rubbed, release a strong smell of turpentine or resin.
The fruits are globose drupes of reddish color and remain on the tree for a long time. Their flavor is a mixture of sweet and spicy and is still very aromatic. The seed is oval, orange-pinkish.
The specimens multiply very easily by seed (and in fact in some areas of the United States, and now also in the Mediterranean basin, they are reported as invasive plants and to be contained). It is the birds that deal with transporting the seeds to areas far from those of origin.
In fact, too many plants cannot be planted in the same area because the leaves and fruits release compounds that inhibit the growth of other specimens of the same species.

False pepper cultivation

As we have said it is a rather simple to cultivate and is particularly suitable for all those areas with a warm-temperate climate. In those conditions it has a very fast growth (in a few years it will certainly exceed 7 meters in height) and rarely is it a cause for concern.

Land and planting

Place in rich and very well drained soil, possibly with the addition of sand or pumice to avoid harmful water stagnation.
It is a very tolerant vegetable, without specific needs.
In reality it is better suited to soils with a low content of organic matter. The false pepper is particularly suitable for areas characterized by soil with alkaline pH. It does not even have problems if there is high salinity, both in the air and in the soil (it is in fact used for the reclamation of areas affected by erosion, especially on the coasts).
We only need to pay particular attention to the drainage of the soil. The roots, in fact, particularly fear water stagnation. If the soil is very compact it will be good, at the time of planting, to mix a good quantity of coarse river sand and to prepare on the bottom a good draining layer based on gravel.
Transplanting can be done at any time of the year, avoiding only working with low temperatures or extremely wet soil.
In northern areas, however, it is advisable to proceed in spring, waiting for the soil to dry well from winter humidity.


in spring it is possible to sow small dark seeds, in a mixture of peat and sand in equal parts; the seeds of schinus they have little germination, it is therefore good to sow them in large numbers in order to obtain some seedlings. In summer it is possible to take semi-woody cuttings.

Pests and diseases

this plant is subject to root rot, especially in soils with poor drainage.

False pepper rusticity

This tree is only partially rustic. It is able to withstand short frosts up to -3 ° C, especially if it is an adult and well stabilized specimen. Keeps the leaves up to about 5 ° C.
The advice, therefore, is to cultivate it in the middle of the earth only in the Center-South. In the North it is necessary to evaluate well what the climatic conditions are and in particular which minimum temperatures can be reached. We can say that it is a very widespread tree in the whole Western Liguria and therefore in that area it can be planted in full ground with a certain tranquility. It is also used quite frequently on Lake Garda, Lake Como and on the Maggiore Lake.
It is very important to protect our specimen in the first years of life, when it has yet to consolidate. In anticipation of possible frosts it is good to carefully mulch the soil with straw, leaves, flour manure or pine bark. The hair, on the other hand, will be covered with one or, even better, several layers of non-woven fabric.


It is said that he prefers rather poor soils. It is however good practice to distribute a good quantity of very mature flour manure twice a year (in autumn and at the end of spring). If we want we can also add a few handfuls of slow release granular fertilizer for fruit trees.


It is not strictly necessary.
The false pepper also bears severe pruning and has no problem in vigorously rejecting it. However, it is a great pity to spoil its elegant natural form. If we really want to intervene it will be better to limit ourselves to slightly opening the fronds eliminating some branch that goes towards the center, so that it can pass a little more light and air inside the foliage.


In the places of origin it is very common to plant specimens in the orchards and orchards because the scent emanating from the leaves is capable of removing plant pests, thus acting as a protector for all cultivation.
At the same time, however, the flowers are particularly loved by bees that, in addition to bottinare, take care of pollinating other fruit trees in the area.

Pink pepper

The drupes produced by this tree have been known since ancient times for their curative properties and are also used in the kitchen for flavoring dishes.
Commercially they are sold with the name of pink pepper (although the real pepper comes from a totally different plant). It was also called "false pepper" because it was used to adulterate the real spice (Piper nigrum) which had a higher price.
The berries must be harvested at full maturity (usually with us at the end of autumn). They must then be dried in the sun and vacuum-sealed or in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place.
The aroma is similar to that of pepper, but with a sweeter note. It goes very well with fresh cheeses, poultry, fish, vegetables and is excellent for flavoring sauces.
In Latin America they are commonly used to flavor wines and edible oils.
It also becomes part of the bouquet of many perfumes and is widely used in aromatherapy.

False pepper - Schinus molle: Use medicinal pink pepper

The tree produces a large quantity of perfumed resin: the natives used to carve the trunk to make it come out. It was used both for medicinal purposes and as a chewing gum. In particular it was sought after in case of toothache and gum infections.
The first Westerners to notice this use were the Jesuit monks. They also began to dedicate themselves to this extraction and sent the product to the Old Continent, where it took the name of Balsamo of the Missionaries, who were attributed innumerable medicinal properties.
The leaves and flowers, on the other hand, were macerated or pulverized and used to alleviate rheumatism and muscle pain.
Indeed, modern science has found that they possess anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antibacterial and antidepressant properties.
The extracted resin is of a beautiful orange-brown color and was also used for coloring textile fibers (in particular for some types of carpets).
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