Peppertree

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Code: t217
Latin name: Schinus molle
Source material: Pollen
Family: Anacardiaceae
Common names: Brazil peppertree, California pepper tree, Molle, Pepper tree, Peruvian peppertree, Schinus, Peruvian mastic tree, American pepper, False pepper
Not to be confused with the West African peppertree (Xylopia aethiopica).

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Peppertree is a member of the family Anacardiaceae, which includes plants in the genus Rhus (syn. Toxicodendron; poison ivy, Sicilian sumac tree, poison oak, poison sumac), Anacardium (Cashew nut), Mangifera (Mango), Schinus (Peppertree, piru), and Pistacia (Pistachio).

The Peppertree is native to Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, and North Argentina. It has become naturalised in semi-tropical and tropical parts of the United States, and has been planted in many parts of the world.

The Peppertree is an evergreen reaching 6 to 12 m in height, with light, weeping foliage. It has a rounded crown with drooping branches, an effect much like that of Weeping willow. The trunk is short, with bark that is light-brown, peeling, and rough-textured, becoming gnarled and furrowed with an attractive, irregular branching pattern as the tree ages. A milky sap, turning to sticky latex, forms if the bark is damaged. The leaves are light-green and are slightly curved at the tip, with a peppery smell if crushed. The Pepper tree has shallow roots that crack pavements and damage sewers.

The scented flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant). Drooping 10 to 15 cm-long clusters of tiny yellowish-white flowers appear in summer, followed by clusters of rose-coloured, 6 mm, dry, shiny berries appearing in autumn on female trees and remaining attached in winter.

The Peppertree was introduced as an ornamental into Florida, USA, where it has become an invasive tree (1).

Environment
The tree grows in forests and gardens and has been planted along streets and highways.

Allergens
No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised.

Potential cross-reactivity


An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus, and to a certain degree among members of the family Anarcardiaceae (including Cashew nut, Mango, Pistachio nut, poison ivy and poison sumac), could be expected (2).

Cross-reactivity has been demonstrated between Mango tree pollen and Peppertree pollen (3).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Pollens from the Peppertree can induce asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis (3).

In a study of 71 subjects of both sexes, aged from 14 to 40 years, 31% were found to be sensitised to Peppertree pollen, as measured by skin prick testing. All subjects who tested positive were sensitised to Mango tree pollen (Magnifera indica) as well (3).

Other reactions
Virtually all parts of this tree, including the trunk, leaves, and fruit, have been used in home medicines from Mexico to South America. The dried and roasted berries are used as a Pepper substitute. The essential oil from the fresh leaves of S. molle has been shown to be efficacious against a range of bacteria (4).

Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com.

References

  1. Williams DA, Muchugu E, Overholt WA, Cuda JP.
    Colonization patterns of the invasive Brazilian peppertree, Schinus terebinthifolius, in Florida. Heredity. 2007 May;98(5):284-93
  2. Yman L. Botanical relations and immuno-logical cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09
  3. Vargas Correa JB, Sanchez Solis L, Farfan Ale JA,
    Noguchi H, Moguel Banos MT, Vargas de la Pena MI. Allergological study of pollen of mango (Magnifera indica) and cross reactivity with pollen of piru (Schinus molle) [Spanish] Rev Alerg 1991;38(5):134-8
  4. Gundidza M. Antimicrobial activity of essential oil from Schinus molle Linn.
    Cent Afr J Med  1993;39(11):231-4

 

As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.