A South American tree introduced to Florida and Hawai'i for ornamental purposes. In Florida, it started to spread rapidly in the 1960s on abandoned agricultural land and is a threat to parts of the Everglades National Park.
Evergreen tree to 12 m with a broad canopy.
Four varieties have been recognized.
Numerous white or yellowish flowers are born on panicles and are insect pollinated. In Florida flowers are pollinated by a native syrphid fly. The tree is dioecious. The drupe, when mature, is bright red and ca. 5 mm in diameter. In Florida robins (Turdus migratorius) are the main dispersal agent but introduced bird species also disperse the fruits. It produces fruits in its second year. Flowering occurs synchronously in October and fruits mature between December and January, although some reproductive activity may occur throughout the year.
The species sprouts after fire and is resistant to salt-spray. It possesses mycorrhizal associations. It is thought to release allelopathic chemicals.
In abandoned farmland of Florida S. terebinthifolius is last species to become established in secondary succession and its stands are self-maintaining. Seedlings become established and survive both in open areas and under dense canopies.
Fruit-laden branches are used as Christmas decorations in both Hawai'i and Florida and the tree is sometimes known as the Christmas berry. It is an important winter ornamental in Florida.
Native to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina where it is sparsely distributed.
Dry tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America.
Grows in a variety of habitats from coastal areas behind the mangrove fringe to around 700 m a.s.l. Favours disturbed habitats such as riverine forests.
A number of insect species feeding on S. terebinthifolius have been recorded in Brazil.
Introduced to Hawaii as an ornamental before 1900 and to Florida in 1989. In Florida it was first collected in the 1840s but was not widely planted until the 1920s and only became a conspicuous component of natural vegetation in the 1960s. It often forms monotypic stands.
In Florida S. terebinthifolius invades coastal and mesic prairies, pineland and particularly abandoned agricultural land where stem densities of up to 11355 stems ha-1 have been recorded. However, it is not found in areas were flooding lasts longer than 3-6 months. In pinelands S. terebinthifolius is largely excluded by fire when fire occurs in 3 to 7 year cycles. Successful establishment is lower in wetter areas probably as a result the elimination of and/or changes in the mycorrhizal associations. After the abandonment of farmland the S. terebinthifolius rate of spread increased dramatically as a result of soil improvement caused by increased nutrients and increased limestone pulverized from the bedrock during ploughing.
In Hawai'i it invades low-lying rangelands and waste grounds that receive a mean annual rainfall of 500 to 1150 mm. In Florida the rainfall is around 1600 mm with rains concentrated between May and October. Occasional winter frosts occur.
In Hawai'i it is found in coastal dry forest dominated by a mixture of exotics. The Everglades National Park contains a large number of tropical plants as well as 65 taxa endemic to southern Florida but is susceptible to invasive woody plants.
Cassytha filiformis, a parasitic climber native to Florida, has recently been found to significantly limit foliage production and reproductive capacity of S. terebinthifolius.
It alters successional patterns. In the Everglades, following farming that improves site quality, a forest community dominated by S. terebinthifolius replaces herbaceous plant communities. The intertwining crowns create dense shade resulting in little understorey herbaceous vegetation. This lack of vegetation and the limited leaf litter (leaves decompose rapidly) reduce fire susceptibility in mature stands. A number of wintering birds feed on the berries including introduced species.
It has no forage value and where it forms dense canopies it shades out desirable forage grasses. Skin contact with leaves and the milky sap results in red, itching rashes and the tree's allergens also cause respiratory difficulties in many people. Profuse regeneration in suburban areas is not welcomed.
Three insect species were introduced from Brazil to Hawaii in the 1950s to control S. terebinthifolius. By the mid 1960s the tree was only partially controlled on Hawai'i. On abandoned farmland infested by S. terebinthifolius, repeated burning does not retard or reduce the growth of mature trees but has some impact on smaller individuals. Fire is not considered as an appropriate management tool. Control using chemical and mechanical treatments, removal of substrate and particularly flooding has been used. Wetland restoration has been the most successful method used in controlling the spread of the species.
No native species appears to be able to take advantage of soil changes induced by past farming practices, particularly in relation to mycorrhizal associations. Under these conditions S. terebinthifolius clearly outcompetes native species. Its reproductive phenology differs markedly from native species with flowering in autumn and the production of ripe fruits in winter.
The introduction of insects for biological control suggest that the impact of insects on S. terebinthifolius populations is absent or negligible in the invaded range but has some impact in its native range.