Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebintifolia) is a weed of massive proportions that covers a massive amount of Florida real estate, estimated to be more than 700,000 acres. This plant is not problematic in its natural range in south America where insects, competition with other plants, diseases, and other factors keep it in check. But, here in Florida, it has usurped and devastated.
Any good news? Yes, finally, the University of Florida has released a biocontrol agent for this tree-sized weed: Brazilian peppertree thrips (Pseudophilothrips ichini).
A gleeful Fran Robinson (Class of 2018) was featured on the front page of the Press Journal as she releases Brazilian peppertree thrips at a celebration at Adams Ranch in Fort Pierce. These tiny insects chew on new growth on Brazilian pepper, as the display below demonstrated.
Biocontrol agents go through a long and thorough screening procedures to assure that they do no damage to other plants. Work to find, assess, and rear Brazilian peppertree thrips at the celebration was characterized as a “long relay” that spanned decades of work by University of Florida researches Dr. Dale Habeck, Dr. James Cuda, Dr. Bill Overholt, and, most recently, Dr. Carey Minteer.
The initial releases have been made on cattle ranches. May this new biocontrol agent devastate Brazilian pepper populations.