#potd: The Peppercorn Trees of Chile

Since arriving in Chile we’ve been very much taken with the Peppercorn trees of #Chile – we saw them in the Plaza Mayor of San Pedro de Atacama, throughout the beautiful & fertile Elqui Valley and in La Serena. With their slightly bent lower branches providing welcome shade they remind us a little of the weeping willow back home in the UK near to rivers. But what really struck us was their attractive pink’ish flowers, looking rather like grapes, that to our surprise contained a small hard fruit….that smelt of pepper! Er…we thought our traditional ‘black pepper’ grew on vines, as indeed it does!

young trees in Elqui valley

These Peppercorn trees in Chile (properly known as ‘Schinus molle’ but also with numerous variations of the same tree family) turn out to be native to south America,. They are called various names here including the Peruvian peppertree, Californian peppertree, false pepper, pepper tree etc and some say they are native to Peru, others to Chile? For now we’ll stick with Peppercorn Tree of Chile as this is where we’ve first seen it! (we saw none in Peru nor Bolivia on our travels?).

mature trees in San Pedro de Atacama

The peppercorns are used as pepper or at least are added to traditional black pepper, and it turns out virtually the whole tree – bark, wood, leaves, fruit/pepper etc have been used for centuries by local indigenous peoples, not least for medicinal purposes. We’re tempted to get a few seeds back home, but given the way these trees flourish in dry, arid areas at altitude, maybe they won’t like damp old UK?!

More info:
techie info from the World Agroforestry database Schinus_molle  (pdf)
Easy to read info on Wikipedia
Info from Top Tropicals on this & similar trees
Deemed to be a weed & pest in much of Australia!
Buy yer seeds here

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