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The Pepper tree
For some years in nurseries, but especially in non-plant stores, we find small bonsai, called pepper tree; or in Italian the pepper tree. In Italy, the term pepper means the seeds and fruits of a particular tropical tree, called in botanical piper nigrum; this tree is not cultivated as bonsai or for ornamental purposes, therefore the pepper tree bonsai is not a pepper tree, but a small tree of a plant which, due to foliage, inflorescence or fruit, reminds of pepper; in other cases we mean by the term pepper tree, the sichuan pepper tree, which has berries similar to those of pepper as we understand it in Italy, but with a different aroma, much more used in Asia.
In Japan and China, with the term pepper tree we therefore mean a small sichuan pepper tree, or zanthoxylum piperitum, in Italy and in Europe, with the term pepper tree, we indicate some trees, very different from each other, united by a similarity with the zanthoxylum, which is often exhausted in having pinnate leaves. So, in Italian stores (and I repeat: often not in nurseries, but in furniture or DIY stores, in the area dedicated to plants) we find various types of pepper tree; rarely it is zanthoxylum piperitum, rarely it is schinus molle (which in Italy is called false pepper), more often it is sophora prostrata “little baby” or operculicaria decaryi.
These four essences are very different from each other, since we go from plants suitable for outdoor living to a semi succulent plant, with caudex; before being able to decide how to grow our pepper tree, it is therefore essential to try to understand what plant we have actually bought, in order to then breed it in the best way.
Zanthoxylum piperitum, or sichuan pepper
This bonsai is generally considered an indoor plant, and as such during the winter it suffers greatly from the hot and dry conditions present in our homes; to make it survive the winter it is advisable to keep the plant in a poorly heated area of the house, and to vaporize its foliage often; alternatively, and having the tools, you can cultivate throughout the winter in a cold greenhouse, where, however, the minimum temperatures never drop below 5 ° C; It is a small deciduous tree, so let's not be scared if it loses its leaves in autumn, it will produce them all new in the spring.
As with many other plants, we avoid placing our bonsai near direct heat sources, or near drafts, and water the soil only when it tends to dry out, so the higher the temperature, the air is dry. , and more often we will have to water it and vice versa.
It is a beautiful plant, not easy to grow for beginners, in spring it produces long panicles of small flowers, followed by decorative fruit trees; let's keep it in a very bright area, with a few hours of direct sun, but only during the coolest hours of the day.
Schinus molle, or false pepper
Schinus molle is an evergreen tree, native to the arid areas of Central and South America, small berries are used in cooking, and called pink pepper; it has an elegant bearing, and large pinnate leaves, with the leaves that make it up lanceolate. The bark, even in young specimens, tends to become gray and cracked, which makes them very interesting as bonsai, in addition to tiny fruit, which is very decorative even in young bonsai.
It is grown outdoors, occasionally, only in the case of very low minimum temperatures, it is repaired with non-woven fabric, covering both the plant and the vase, to prevent the foliage from being ruined by the cold.
It is a plant very resistant to drought, which needs a particularly well-drained soil, as the schinus does not like the excesses of watering, and water stagnations.
It is positioned in a very luminous area, with a good dose of hours of direct sun every day, except in torrid seasons and in the hottest hours of the day. This is not a bonsai for beginners, as the tree is very vigorous and the leaves are very large, which is why it is necessary to carefully follow the development of the bonsai, correcting it several times a year.
Sophora prostrated "little baby"
The sophora prostrata is an evergreen shrub native to New Zealand, has small pinnate leaves, made up of very small roundish leaves; the branches are light brown in color and have a silky appearance; the shrub is small in size and develops a particular habit, very branched, with new branches facing downwards; the overall appearance of the plant is decidedly very pleasant; in particular, the cultivar variety "little baby" has particularly minute leaves, which make it definitely an excellent shrub to prepare bonsai, as even very young specimens can remember old trees, without the farmer having to devote months and months to the plant work for bonsaization.
These are indoor bonsai, evergreen, definitely suitable even for beginners, as it often happens that well-formed specimens initially need only a few years of care.
They prefer well-lit positions, even sunny, but not in the hottest hours of the day; they tolerate drought very well, and fear water stagnation, which can very quickly lead to the death of the plant, or to complete defoliation.
As with many plants, even the sophora prostrata does not like the very dry air present in the house, so during the winter it should be periodically vaporized, to increase the environmental humidity.
Pepper tree: Operculicaria decaryi
Operculicaria is a semi-succulent plant, with a caudiciform stem, native to Madagascar; it is grown in an apartment or in a cold greenhouse, with minimum temperatures that never fall below 10 ° C. It is grown in bright areas, even in full sun, and tolerates drought well; instead, it fears excess watering, even in summer, so it is watered only when the soil is dry. This soil must be very well drained.
Operculicaria and sophora prostrata are very similar plants, and for a non-expert it is very easy to mistake one plant for another, as they have very similar foliage and posture; different is certainly the stem, which in the operculicaria has very evident veins, and deep roughnesses, in addition to this, even the young specimens tend to produce a knotty and intricate looking stem.
Also the operculicaria is suitable to be cultivated by a beginner, also because it tolerates at best the conditions characterized by the dry air present in the house.