California pepper trees (Schinus molle) grow quickly to 25 to 40 feet in height with an equal spread. This is an evergreen tree in U.S.D.A. plant hardiness zones 8b through 11b. It bears peppery-scented foliage, and the female trees produce clusters of red berries that encapsulate the seeds. It’s these red berries you’ll need to harvest to germinate California pepper tree seeds.
Ironically, this tree is considered invasive in California.
Handling of any part of the California pepper tree may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals, so wear gloves when working with the tree. Wait until the fruit turns red to harvest and then lay it in the sun to dry for about a week. You’ll know it’s ready when the outer covering rubs off easily with your hands.
Store the seeds in a glass jar until you are ready to plant them. They remain viable for up to two years.
California pepper tree seeds require a loose medium in which to germinate, so perlite is ideal. Use cell trays or pots, whichever is more convenient for you, and fill them to within ½ inch of the rim with perlite. Water the perlite slowly to ensure that it becomes evenly moist. You may need to stir it as you add water. Allow the perlite to drain completely before planting the seeds.
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You may notice that the California pepper tree’s seeds are coated with a sticky substance after removal from the husk. This substance needs to be removed before planting, so soak the seeds in room temperature water for 48 to 72 hours. Place the seeds on the surface of the perlite and cover them with a 1/8-inch layer of perlite or sand.
Care during Germination
California pepper tree seeds need to be kept slightly moist at all times during germination. The best way to accomplish this is by spraying the top layer of perlite or sand with water from a misting bottle. Keep the containers out of the sun both before and after germination. Expect the seeds germinate within 10 to 30 days.
Image: “Schinus Molle” by Squeezeweasel at en.wikipedia – Liz Upton, own work.