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The 28 species of Schinus are almost entirely restricted to central South America, with a centre of diversity in northern Argentina, though S. molle extends northwards into Mexico (Barkley 1957). Schinus species range from small shrubs to large trees, with evergreen leaves. The resin in the stems and leaves can cause allergic reactions in some people. The branches are slender or thick, glabrous or pubescent. The leaves are extremely variable across the genus: they are simple or compound, small or large, thick and leathery or thin and membranous, and glabrous or pubescent. The leaf margins may be entire, dentate or crenate, and the leaf rachis (in compound leaves) is winged. Schinus is dioecious, though occasional bisexual flowers occur in the inflorescences. The inflorescences are typically paniculate, with moderate to considerable branching. They are glabrous or pubescent, and may, rarely, be spicate. The individual flowers are numerous but unimpressive. The fruit is a drupe with thin, papery skin, ranging from deep red to lilac in colour (Barkley 1944, 1957, 1961). Schinus can be split into two major groups: those with pinnate leaves (for example, S. molle), and those with simple leaves (for example, S. montanus Engl.). The latter group has been separated into a segregate genus, Duvaua Kunth, though the discovery of a simple-leafed form of the typically pinnate S. pearcei Engl. suggests that this distinction is invalid.
Schinus molle is the best known of its genus, but merits a place in this work principally to quell optimism over its hardiness. Schinus polygamus, on the other hand, is much hardier, and also earned mild praise from Bean (1981b) for its masses of small flowers. Propagation is easy from seed, and the fruit clusters of S. molle – like the pods of that other hopeless case, Ceratonia siliqua – are very tempting to holidaymakers.
Under cultivation in the open air, only one, or at most two, species of this genus are sufficiently hardy to thrive. These are evergreen shrubs, with the shoots often becoming spine-tipped, and the leaves alternate. Flowers very small and numerous on short racemes, yellowish or white. Fruit a round, one-seeded drupe. The genus is most nearly allied to Pistacia and Rhus. The species described below were long called Duvaua, being distinguished from Schinus proper by the simple leaves. S. molle, the so-called “pepper tree,” is very extensively cultivated in S. France, Italy, etc., where its much divided, pinnate leaves and drooping branches make it a singularly graceful tree, laden in autumn with beautiful clusters of red berries about the size of small peas. It is not hardy with us. Native of S. America.
The two following species do not require a rich soil, making shorter, hardier growth, and flowering better where it is rather poor. They do not transplant well. Propagated by cuttings made in August, and placed in gentle heat.