Schinus molle

Peruvian pepper
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Schinus
Species: S. molle
Binomial name
Schinus molle

Schinus molle (Peruvian pepper , also known as American pepper, Peruvian peppertree, escobilla, false pepper, molle del Peru, pepper tree,[2] peppercorn tree, Californian pepper tree, pirul and Peruvian mastic[3]) is an evergreen tree that grows to 15 meters (50 feet). It is native to the Peruvian Andes. The bright pink fruits of Schinus molle are often sold as "pink peppercorns" although S. molle is unrelated to true pepper (Piper nigrum). The tree is host to Bombycomorpha bifascia, known as the Pepper-tree moth.


Schinus molle is a quick growing evergreen tree that grows 15 meters (50 feet) tall and 5–10 meters (16–33 feet) wide.[3] It is the largest of all Schinus species and potentially the longest lived.[4] The upper branches of the tree tend to droop.[3] The tree's pinnately compound leaves measure 8–25 cm long × 4–9 cm wide and are made up of 19-41 alternate leaflets.[3][4] Male and female flowers occur on separate plants (dioecious).[3] Flowers are small, white and borne profusely in panicles at the ends of the drooping branches.[4] The fruit are 5–7 mm diameter round drupes with woody seeds that turn from green to red, pink or purplish,[3] carried in dense clusters of hundreds of berries that can be present year-round.[4] The rough grayish bark is twisted and drips sap.[3] The bark, leaves and berries are aromatic when crushed.[3]


S. molle is native to the arid zone of Northern South America and Peru's Andean deserts, and goes to Central Argentina and Central Chile.[3] It has, however, become widely naturalized around the world where it has been planted, known for its strong wood used for saddles. It was part of the Spanish colonies' supply sources for saddles; as an ornamental and for spice production.[5] S. molle is a drought tolerant, long-lived, hardy evergreen species that has become a serious invasive weed internationally.[5]

In South Africa, for example, S. molle has invaded savanna and grasslands and become naturalised along drainage lines and roadsides in semi-desert.[5] It is also invasive throughout much of Australia in a range of habitats from grasslands to dry open forest and coastal areas, as well as railway sidings and abandoned farms.[3] In the United States, either S. molle or its close relative Schinus terebinthifolius is particularly invasive in Florida and Hawaii, and can also be found crowding out native vegetation in southern Arizona, southern California, Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico.[6]

Distinctive bark



Although not related to commercial pepper (Piper nigrum)[3] the pink/red berries are sold as pink peppercorns and often blended with commercial pepper.[3] The fruit and leaves are, however, potentially poisonous to poultry, pigs and possibly calves.[3] Records also exist of young children who have experienced vomiting and diarrhea after eating the fruit.[3] Presently Schinus molle lacks generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status with the FDA.[7]

Extracts of S. molle have been used as a flavor in drinks and syrups.[8]


In traditional medicine, S. molle was used in treating a variety of wounds and infections due to its antibacterial and antiseptic properties.[8] It has also been used as an antidepressant and diuretic, and for toothache, rheumatism and menstrual disorders,[8] with recent studies in mice providing possible support for its antidepressant effects.[9][10] It has also been speculated that S. molle's insecticidal properties make it a good candidate for use as an alternative to synthetic chemicals in pest control.[8]

Fresh green leaves in bunches are used shamanically in Mesoamerican traditional ceremonies for cleansings and blessings.

Other uses

The leaves are also used for the natural dyeing of textiles in the Andean region. This practice dates back to pre-Columbian times. The Incas used the oil from its leaves in early mummification practices to preserve and embalm their dead.[11]


The word molle in Schinus molle comes from mulli,[12] the Quechua word for the tree.

The Inca used the sweet outer part of ripe fruit to make a drink. Berries were rubbed carefully to avoid mixing with the bitter inner parts, the mix strained and then left for a few days to produce a drink. It was also boiled down for syrup or mixed with maize to make nourishing gruel.[13]

There is also significant archaeological evidence that the fruits of S. molle were used extensively in the Central Andes around 550-1000 AD for producing chicha, a fermented alcoholic beverage.[4]


The tree reproduces through seed, suckers and cuttings.[3] The seeds have a particularly hard coat and germination rates are greatly improved after they have passed through the gut of birds or other animals.[3] Seeds germinate in spring, with seedlings slow growing until established.[3] The seeds easily germinate under the tree in the existing leaf litter of the mother tree, by the hundreds at once and can be easily transplanted.


  1. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), Taxon: Schinus molle L., United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area, retrieved 2008-07-06
  2. PLANTS Profile: Schinus molle L. (Peruvian peppertree), United States Department of Agriculture, retrieved 2008-07-06 (Archived by WebCite)
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Blood, Kate (2001), Environmental weeds: a field guide for SE Australia, Mount Waverley, Victoria, Australia: CH Jerram, pp. 36–37, ISBN 0-9579086-0-1
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Goldstein, David John; Coleman, Robin Christine (2004), "Schinus molle L. (Anacardiaceae) Chicha production in the Central Andes", Economic Botany, New York, USA: Springer New York (published December 2004), 58 (4): 523–529, doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2004)058[0523:SMLACP]2.0.CO;2
  5. 1 2 3 Iponga, D.M.; Milton, S.J.; Richardson, D.M. (2008), "Superiority in competition for light: A crucial attribute defining the impact of the invasive alien tree Schinus molle (Anacardiaceae) in South African savanna", Journal of Arid Environments (published May 2008), 72 (5), pp. 612–623, doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2007.10.001
  6. Elfers, S.C. (1988), Element Stewardship Abstract for Schinus terebinthifolius (PDF), Arlington, Virginia, United States: The Nature Conservancy (published 1988-10-13), retrieved 2008-07-06
  7. Singh, Ram J.; Lebeda, Ales; Tucker, Arthur O. (2011). "2. Medicinal Plants—Nature's Pharmacy". In Singh, Ram J. Genetic Resources, Chromosome Engineering, and Crop Improvement: Medicinal Plants. 6. CRC Press (published 15 September 2011). p. 17. ISBN 978-1420073843.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Ferreroa, Adriana; Alejandra, Minettib; Cristina, Brasa; Zanettia, Noelia (2007), "Acute and subacute toxicity evaluation of ethanolic extract from fruits of Schinus molle in rats", Journal of Ethnopharmacology (published 2007-09-25), 113 (3), pp. 441–447, doi:10.1016/j.jep.2007.06.019, PMID 17716846
  9. Machadoa, Daniele G.; Kastera, Manuella P.; Binfaréa, Ricardo W.; Diasc, Munique; Santosb, Adair R.S.; Pizzolattic, Moacir G.; Brighentec, Inês M.C.; Rodrigues, Ana Lúcia S. (2007), "Antidepressant-like effect of the extract from leaves of Schinus molle L. in mice: Evidence for the involvement of the monoaminergic system", Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, Elsevier (published 2007-03-30), 31 (2): 421–428, doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2006.11.004, PMID 17182164
  10. Daniele G. Machado, Luis E.B. Bettio, Mauricio P. Cunha, Adair R.S. Santos, Moacir G. Pizzolatti, Inês M.C. Brighente, and Ana Lúcia S. Rodrigues (2008). "Antidepressant-like effect of rutin isolated from the ethanolic extract from Schinus molle L. in mice: Evidence for the involvement of the serotonergic and noradrenergic systems." Eur. J' Pharmacol. 587 163-168.
  11. Adorno, Rolena; boserup, ivan (Dec 4, 2015). Unlocking the Doors to the Worlds of Guaman Poma and His Nueva corónica. Museum Tusculanum Press. p. 118. ISBN 9788763542708.
  12. Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005 (Quechua_Spanish dictionary)
  13. Coe, Sophie D. (1994), America's first cuisines, University of Texas Press, pp. 186–187, ISBN 0-292-71159-X
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