While Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) and Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) look similar, with their smooth-edged leaves and bright fall berries, they are quite different. Dahoon holly is a well-behaved landscape specimen, while Brazilian pepper tree is widely considered to be an invasive weed. Despite the fact that both are attractive, you probably want to stick to holly in the garden.
Although it is considered a weed in most parts of the United States, you can grow the Brazilian pepper tree as an ornamental. Also called the Christmas berry tree, it is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. Dahoon holly, on the other hand, is native to North America and winter hardy in USDA zones 7a through 11. Both grow to heights of 20 or 30 feet when mature, although Brazilian pepper tree has a faster growth rate and reaches maturity sooner.
Leaves, Flowers and Fruits
While the leaves of the Brazilian pepper tree are smooth and lanceolate with visible, lighter green veins, the Dahoon holly has shiny dark green leaves with a few spines at the end. Both trees are evergreen. Brazilian pepper tree has pinkish white flowers, which can be quite showy, while Dahoon holly’s flowers are rather plain, in colors of white or gray. Both trees have striking berries, pink for Brazilian pepper tree and shiny red for the holly.
Dahoon holly does not usually escape its planting area, but Brazilian pepper tree has naturalized fiercely in California, Hawaii and southern Florida, areas whose climates match that of its native Brazil. After they colonize, they form dense thickets and spread easily by seed, so planting them is inadvisable.
Both Brazilian pepper tree and Dahoon holly pose their own set of threats. Brazilian pepper tree, which is in the same family as the noxious weed poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens), may cause itchy skin reactions. Some people also have respiratory troubles when the plant blooms. Dahoon holly poses a significantly smaller threat, but it has some spikes at the tips of its leaves, which can hurt small children. Warn them of the risk of both plants and keep pets away from Brazilian pepper tree so that they do not carry its oils or pollen inside.