Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mystery Solved?

Schinus terebinthifolius new growth, Schinus terebinthifolius foliage
It grows at the very back of the yard.  It is a small tree with a heavy wooden stake still nearly as large as its own trunk.  At about 4.5 ft (1.3 m) high it begins to send out slender branches with leaves and, for much of the year, soft red berries at the outer ends.
Schinus terebinthifolius berries, Brazilian Pepper tree berries
The foliage is not very dense, nor is the tree very tall; but out here in the desert anything that can cast a shade is treasured.

A few yards away the same type of plant grows in bush form, much denser and leafier, but with no berries though both plants bloomed together in May.  The little tree has also sent out a good many shoots from the ground, making it clear that the single-trunked form is not necessarily its natural habit of growth.
Schinus terebinthifolius buds
As both plants were already in place and in their current forms when we moved onto the property a year ago, it has been a question of identification - by me, unfamiliar with the local plants!  By October I thought I knew.  Various forms of Pistacia do grow successfully in the low desert, and I labelled it Pistacia lentiscus.  Then a week ago I posted a flower vase with the berries and some foliage - and the name.
Monday vase

And Christina at myhesperidesgarden.wordpress.com immediately recognised that the leaves did not look like the P. lentiscus she had planted in her garden.  Which sent me back for some more detective work.  This time, as I felt I had pretty well exhausted my own books, I did most of the research online.  At first I flattered myself that I hadn't gotten it too far off; perhaps it was P. terebinthus.  But it didn't take long to see that the flowers were a different colour (pink) and neither flowers nor fruits looked at all the same.

In fact, I had been entirely on the wrong track, looking in the Old World for a tree from the New.  As far as I can tell, the two plants, tree and shrub, are specimens of Schinus terebinthifolius, the Brazilian Pepper Tree.  The small white flowers, the growth pattern of the little pepper-type berries (quite different from the Pistacias), the shrubby tree form, and the dioecious nature of the plants all appear to be correct for the Schinus.  I can say at least that the leaves are sufficiently like Pistacia terebinthus to earn this Pepper Tree the species name of terebinthifolius.  But I can't say much more, except that it took the picture database available on the web to work this one out!

Here are a few more pictures.  I enjoy photographing the berries though with their soft colouring they took a little extra camera practice.  At least there has been plenty of practice time; the tree holds the berries for many months.  I have yet to catch a good picture of the tiny flowers.  As you can see, the new growth is a good bronzy green colour.
Schinus terebinthifolius new growth, Schinus terebinthifolius foliage
Schinus terebinthifolius new growth, Schinus terebinthifolius foliage
Definitely not fruit from the Pistacia family!  These trees are, curiously enough, from the cashew family, Anacardiaciae.
Schinus terebinthifolius berries
So there it is - in full colour.  I think I have it right this time, but I'm certainly open to further investigation.  Please let me know if you would identify it differently!  I'll be happy to see some better-informed opinions...
Schinus terebinthifolius berries

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