Pepper tree

Scientific name
Schinus molle
Order / Family
Local Names
English: it is commonly known as; pepper tree, California pepper tree, Chilean pepper tree, mastic tree, molle, pepper berry tree, weeping pepper, Peruvian mastic, pink pepper and Peruvian pepper tree: Kikuyu (Mubiribiri); Swahili (mpilipili); Luhya (Ipilipili).


General Distribution:

An evergreen tree commonly planted in dry warm climates throughout the world and in most districts of Kenya.
Distribution of Schinus molle in Kenya

© Maundu P. and Bo Tengnas. (2005). Useful trees and shrubs for Kenya, World Agroforestry Centre.


General Information about the Tree:

The pepper tree is native to Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. The tree should not be planted close to buildings due to falling branches as the tree ages. It is shallow rooted and likely to be blown over. Pollarding is a good way of reducing this risk. The wood is termite resistant.

Biophysical Limits:

Altitude: 0-2 400 (3 900) m, Mean annual temperature: 15 - 20 deg C., Mean annual rainfall: 300-600 mm, Soil type: Prefers sandy well-drained soils. This tree can tolerate most soils including both dry sands and black cotton. It is also tolerant to alkalinity and salinity. It does well in agro-ecological zones II - V and flowers throughout.

Propagation and Tree Management

Seedlings are used in propagating it and it reaches maturity in less than 20 years. It has a low-branching habit, and pruning of lower branches is recommended when the tree is young if clearance beneath is desired and to reduce the chances of the tree being blown over. Coppicing, pollarding and lopping also are viable methods of managing the tree. Planting the trees away from buildings will avoid possible damage from the fall of heavy branches as trees age.


  • Food: While not considered poisonous, the berries are not normally eaten. In Mexico, the fruit is ground and mixed with other substances to form beverages. The seeds are sometimes used to adulterate pepper.
  • Apiculture: S. molle is suitable for bee forage.
  • Fuel: The wood of S. molle can be burned as both firewood and charcoal.
  • Timber: Heartwood is a dull, light red, deepening upon exposure and becoming more or less purplish and rather oily looking; distinct but not sharply demarcated from the brownish-grey sapwood; moderately hard and heavy, specific gravity (air-dry) 0.54 - 0.68; texture medium to fine, uniform; grain variable, often irregular; very easy to work; durability high; wood is termite resistant and therefore suitable for posts.
  • Gum or resin: The tree produces an aromatic resin used as a mastic.
  • Latex or rubber: Latex is produced from many parts of the tree.
  • Tannin or dyestuff: Bark is used for tanning skins.
  • Essential oil: The fruit contains a volatile oil and has a flavour resembling that of a mixture of fennel and pepper. The oil of S. molle exhibits significant activity against several bacterial species, such as Alcaligenes faecalis, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The oil also shows the maximum toxic activity against fungus during the screening of some essential oils against some common storage and animal pathogenic fungi.
  • Alcohol: An intoxicating liquor known as "copalocle" or "copalote" is obtained by fermenting the fruit with pulque for 1-2 days.
  • Poison: The hanging strings of little pink berries of this attractive ornamental tree are reputed to be moderately poisonous, particularly the seed. Leaves are an insect repellant. The pollen, on contact or when inhaled, can cause dermatitis and asthmatic reactions. The tree also has antimicrobial, antifungal, piscicidal and viricidal properties.
  • Medicine: Leaf juice is used to treat ophthalmia and rheumatism; a bark extract infusion is used for diarrhoea, and resin of the bark is a dangerous purgative. Other known medicinal properties of the tree include using it as an astringent, a balsamic, diuretic, expectorant, masticatory, stomachic, tonic and vulnerary. The ailments it is known to treat include amenorrhoea, bronchitis, gingivitis, gonorrhoea, gout, tuberculosis, tumour, ulcer, urethritis, wart, wounds, and urogenital and venereal diseases.


  • Erosion control: The tree is planted for soil conservation. Shade or shelter: The wide, multibranched crown provides good shade and acts as a suitable windbreak.
  • OrnamentalS. molle is commonly planted as an ornamental; it offers lacy, delicate evergreen foliage, a sculptural, twisted branch structure and an attractive textured bark. Ripe berries are often cut and used fresh or dried in floral displays. The tree has been grown as an indoor bonsai.
  • Boundary or barrier or support: It is sometimes planted as a live fence

Pests and Diseases

Susceptible to scale and psyllid damage; it harbours black scale, which is a serious pest of the Citrus species; in soggy situations it can be prone to root rot.

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