Appearance''Schinus molle'' is a quick growing evergreen tree that grows up to 15 meters tall and wide. It is the largest of all ''Schinus'' species and potentially the longest lived. The upper branches of the tree tend to droop. The tree's pinnately compound leaves measure 8–25 cm long × 4–9 cm wide and are made up of 19-41 alternate leaflets. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants . Flowers are small, white and borne profusely in panicles at the ends of the drooping branches. The fruit are 5–7 mm diameter round drupes with woody seeds that turn from green to red, pink or purplish, carried in dense clusters of hundreds of berries that can be present year-round. The rough grayish bark is twisted and drips sap. The bark, leaves and berries are aromatic when crushed.
Distribution''S. molle'' is native to the arid zone of Northern South America and Peru's Andean deserts, and goes to Central Argentina and Central Chile. It has, however, become widely naturalized around the world where it has been planted, known for its strong wood used for saddles. It was part of the Spanish colonies' supply sources for saddles; as an ornamental and for spice production.
''S. molle'' is a drought tolerant, long-lived, hardy evergreen species that has become a serious invasive weed internationally.
In South Africa, for example, ''S. molle'' has invaded savanna and grasslands and become naturalized along drainage lines and roadsides in semi-desert. It is also invasive throughout much of Australia in a range of habitats from grasslands to dry open forest and coastal areas, as well as railway sidings and abandoned farms. In the United States, either ''S. molle'' or its close relative ''Schinus terebinthifolius'' is particularly invasive in Florida and Hawaii, and can also be found crowding out native vegetation in southern Arizona, southern California, Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico.
EvolutionThe word ''molle'' in ''Schinus molle'' comes from ''mulli'', the Quechua word for the tree.
The Inca used the sweet outer part of ripe fruit to make a drink. Berries were rubbed carefully to avoid mixing with the bitter inner parts, the mix strained and then left for a few days to produce a drink. It was also boiled down for syrup or mixed with maize to make nourishing gruel.
There is also significant archaeological evidence that the fruits of ''S. molle'' were used extensively in the Central Andes around 550-1000 AD for producing ''chicha'', a fermented alcoholic beverage.
UsesThe leaves are also used for the natural dyeing of textiles in the Andean region. This practice dates back to pre-Columbian times. The Incas used the oil from its leaves in early mummification practices to preserve and embalm their dead.
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