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Brazilian pepper tree is a small, evergreen bushy tree 3-7m tall. The short trunk is usually hidden in a dense head of contorted, intertwining branches with leathery fern-like leaves. The crushed leaves produce a pungent smell that has been described as “peppery” or “turpentine-like”. Each leaf is comprised of 4 or 6, or sometimes more, rounded and often toothed leaflets that are arranged in pairs with a single, terminal leaflet. Small, white flowers on the female trees are followed by bright red fruit, 4-6mm across. Brazilian pepper tree can be found in disturbed and undisturbed areas, wetlands and water body margins; they grow in a range of light levels, but growth increases in full sunlight.
Brazilian pepper can grow on sites with varying water availability, from areas that are rarely inundated to those that are flooded for several weeks at a time, making it highly competitive in wet habitats. It has limited tolerance to salinity and is sensitive to freezing, but it sprouts after frost damage. Brazilian pepper trees reach early maturity (within 3 years of germinating), produce large amounts of seeds, and also form root suckers which develop into new plants; causing native species to be exculded.