Christmas berry tree is an invasive tree that is native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.
In Florida, where it is a noxious weed, it was used ornamentally as a Holly substitute (another invasive species in Hawaii) due to similar red fruits. In fact, it was once called Florida Holly. In Hawaii, some refer to it as a Christmas berry tree, others call it Brazilian pepper tree. It was imported to Hawaii in 1911 as an ornamental.
From 1927 to 1935, Christmas berry tree was widely planted as a forestry tree. 1400 trees were planted on Hawaii Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. Today it is invasive on all the main Hawaiian Islands.
Shade tolerant and bird-dispersed seeds means it can invade intact native forests. This species is directly threatening the existence of the endangered plant Abutilon sandwicense. It also dominates pasture lands rendering them useless.
Christmas berry tree is drought tolerant, fire-adapted, and can withstand flooding. The allelopathic tree puts out chemicals in the soil that prevent the growth of other species. The short trunk and tangle of horizontal branches an impenetrable thicket. Monotypic stands are common.
Description and Dispersal:
- Short stout trunk with numerous horizontal branches.
- Compound leaves are alternatively arranged, sometimes red, and have finely toothed leaflets.
- White flowers grow in clusters.
- Clusters of shiny fruits are green, turning to red as they ripen.