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City declares war on
Brazilian pepper trees



Worker treating trees

After hacking a pepper tree, a workers treats it with basal oil and the herbicide Garlon to kill it. Once they have died, the trees are then pruned with a vertical mower.

Invasive plant once again the target of campaign to remove it from rights of way

BY CHRISTINA TASCON

They come to Florida, plant their roots and then take over the neighborhood. That’s right, we are talking about those leafy, invasive, nonnative Brazilian pepper trees.

In the 1840s, Brazilian pepper trees (or Schinus terebinthifolius) emigrated from South America and set their roots in deep, trying to take over the Florida landscape. The plant loves warm weather and lots of sunshine, so it settled in and made Florida its home, having come from similar climes in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

ENEMY OF THE STATE

Floridians cultivated its use as a tree or shrub because of its ornamental red berries and lush green leaves. In fact, many homeowners like its green fullness, enjoying the privacy the pepper tree offers as a barrier between neighbors and roadways. However pepper trees usurp the position of native vegetation, upsetting the local ecology like another well-known intruder — kudzu, an Asian vine that has smothered southeastern landscapes.

The South Florida Water Management District has deemed the Brazilian pepper tree an enemy of the state; it requires the trees to be removed from rights of way, new developments and public land. The tree is not the only nonnative species to try and bully its way into Florida — see the Old World climbing fern and the water hyacinth — but the pepper tree is one of the most aggressive. Its takeover is especially prevalent in Port St. Lucie, which was cleared of most of its native vegetation when it was originally platted and readied for development. The SFWMD has spent at least $20 million in each of the last five years to remove the pepper trees, and the fight continues.

CHEMICAL ATTACK

Port St. Lucie’s Division of Environmental Services is working to abolish the plants along its rights of way between the Florida Turnpike east to the St. Lucie River and from Southbend Boulevard north to Archer Avenue. The project began in early August and crews will be chemically treating the plants with basal oil and Garlon, a herbicide, until late November and early December to kill the plants before pruning the dead trees back with vertical mowers. September to November is when the plants are flowering; they usually bear fruit in December, so this is the best time to prevent its berries from seeding.

There really are only two ways to eliminate pepper trees other than to remove them — one is chemically and the other is extreme cold. Unfortunately, Florida does not have many intense cold spells and treatment is not winning the battle, but does help keep rights of way clear temporarily.

“We have to target pepper trees every single day and it is just one of several plants,” John Dunton, DES project manager, said. “It is perpetual maintenance statewide to control the growth of these nonnative invasive exotic plants. They consume other vegetation and out-compete native plants, which creates an imbalance of the natural flora.”

The city is asking drivers to use caution when driving through the areas where workers are, as well as for people to avoid jogging, walking or allowing pets and children to play nearby while crews are on site.