Brazilian pepper tree is the common name for the Schinus terebinthifolius tree, a native of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Its incarnation in the United States is considered invasive in states such as California, Florida and Texas, with aggressive programs in place to eradicate it from natural ecosystems and disturbed habitats. Due to the presence of toxic compounds in the bark, Brazilian pepper tree wood should never be used for cooking.
Similar to poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac, the leaves and bark of the Brazilian pepper tree contain urushiol, a toxic oil that causes serious rashes and allergic reactions. When the wood is burned for cooking or smoking foods, the toxic compounds become airborne and can cause severe reactions when they come into contact with eyes and skin. Inhaling the smoke can irritate and burn your throat, mouth and lungs, and contribute to respiratory illness. The smoke may settle into the fur of your pets and be absorbed into furniture, creating poisonous pockets in your environment.
Wendy K. Leigh is a travel writer and photojournalist from Seattle. She is the Editor of Islands America, a travel website for visiting islands within the United States. She also writes about home design, food and historical architecture. Leigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Washington.