Plant of the Month

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California Pepper Tree
Schinus molle

  • Plant Form: Evergreen tree
  • Water Use: Very low
  • Mature Size: 25-40 ft. tall and wide
  • Exposure: Full sun
  • Bloom Time: Summer (June-August)
  • Native to: Peru, South America
  • Hardiness: Cold hardy to 15°F

Early missionaries knew the value of this low-water use, evergreen shade tree from South America, and planted it so often at California missions that it has become known as California Pepper Tree despite its origin.

California Pepper Tree is an evergreen tree with a weeping form that creates expansive shade when given room to spread. This fast-growing tree needs only occasional watering when established, and develops a fantastically gnarled trunk with interesting peeling bark. Its bright green leaves are divided into many narrow leaflets. Pendulous creamy white flowers in summer develop into small red berries on female trees from fall into winter. California Pepper Tree was named due to its wide use in California since early missionaries planted it at their missions, but this plant is actually native to the Peruvian Andes. This tree produces heavy litter from foliage and falling fruit, deterring understory growth, and its invasive roots can crack and heave nearby pavement, foundations, and pipes. Properly used, this tree is outstanding. Avoid planting between sidewalks and curbs, near house foundations, patio cement, sewers or septic tanks, or in lawns. Plant along roads or driveways without curbs, in play areas, lounging areas, or to frame a large gateway. Can also be used as a hedge when planted 2 feet apart and sheared into a billowy hedge.

Check out our “Garden Tasks” for January