Peruvian pepper, false pepper (Eng); falso pimentero, pimentero (Spa); pebrer bord, fals pebrer (Cat); pimenteira, pimenteira-bastarda (Por).
DID YOU KNOW...? The fruit of this tree 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 that detaches as long plates. It has elegant, hanging branches that give the tree a limp, drooping appearance. The entire plant generates a very aromatic resin that can be appreciated when breaking a leaf or twig. The leaves are persistent, alternate, and composed of 8-20 pairs of leaflets, either with or without one at the end (odd-pinnate or even-pinnate), that exude latex when cut. Altogether the leaf is 10-30 cm long. The leaflets are linear or linear-lanceolate in shape, have an entire or somewhat toothed margin, and terminate in a curved point. The tiny flowers may be unisexual or hermaphrodite, with five whitish-yellow 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 appear in clusters, are globose (4-8 mm in diameter) and acquire a characteristic pinkish or purple tone. They are fleshy at first, but dry when ripe. The outer skin is fragile, like a husk, and inside is a 3-5 mm diameter, globose seed.
The Peruvian pepper is frequently planted as an ornamental in urban areas, on roundabouts, in parks, gardens and green zones. It naturalises, or grows spontaneously, in degraded areas like the edges of roads and tracks, from sea level up to altitudes of a little more than 1000 m. As a species that has become established in the wild it is widespread across the islands. It is a relatively fast-growing tree, indifferent to soil type, with the exception of very limey or wet substrates, is thermophilous, very tolerant of high temperatures and prolonged drought, but which is not frost-resistant.
The Peruvian pepper is native to the Andean region of South America that can be found from the south of Mexico to the north of Chile and Argentina. It is currently found across most of the tropics, as well as warm or dry regions, where it has become established in the wild. This has happened in the Canaries, specifically La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, islands where it was initially cultivated as an ornamental. Today this tree is so frequently established in the wild that it has become a real plague in certain places. It appears in the Atlas of invasive alien plants of Spain.