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The California pepper becomes a large evergreen shrub and tree with a heavy branching structure and mounding form, 35-45 ft. tall and 50+ ft. wide. Pinnately divided light green leaves hang gracefully from small branchlets and are pungent when crushed. Tiny yellow flowers are insignificant; clusters of rose color berries are attractive from fall to winter.

The California pepper tree is more accurately known as the Peruvian mastic tree due to its origin in South America. It has become known as the California pepper as a result of its long standing use and widespread presence in California since its 1830s introduction into the state. It is remarkably well adapted to the Mediterranean climate and soil conditions of the Inland Empire where it can grow with our normal winter rains and little or no summer watering.

California pepper tree is planted as a shade tree in large courtyards, along entry drives, on slopes and in parks and gardens. This species produces an abundance of litter and dense shade; a natural leaf litter mulch and no watering within the drip line is recommended. It is a signature species on many streets, including Euclid Avenue in Ontario and Upland, as well as on many freeway slopes.

Water Needs

The California pepper tree performs best in gardens and landscapes when planted in well-drained soils and where it receives normal winter rainfall. Summer irrigation is often not needed for established plants; young plants will grow faster and larger with low amounts of summer irrigation.

The chart shown below provides a baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. As shown in the chart below, there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 1

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 1x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Tree
Foliage Character: Evergreen
Habit: Spreading, Sprawling, Robust, Low-branching, Graceful
Growth Rate: Fast
Height: 35 ft. - 45 ft.
Width: 50 ft. - 75 ft.
Water Needs: Low 1
Foliage Color: Light green
Flower Color: Insignificant
Flower Season: Summer
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Clay
Exposure Adaptations: Heat, Frost, Drought, Aridity, All day sun
Function: Specimen, Slopes, Shade Tree, Screening, Residential spaces, Parks and open space, Monumental scale tree, Grouped, Commercial spaces, Civic spaces, Banks, Background plant, Fragrant foliage


Plan on early structural pruning as needed to develop good long term form. Remove suckers (vigorous shoots from the base of the trunk) and water sprouts (vigorous vertical shoots growing from branches) was soon as they are noticed, any time of the year. Other minor pruning in winter as needed (D). Older trees tend to end up with hollow limbs or trunks and may become safety hazards, so they should be checked for this on a regular basis (S).



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