Ballona Institute Publications in Ecology


Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek, President
Ballona Institute
Los Angeles, California 90293

          For twenty years now, I have been investigating and researching the trees and their ecology in the greater Ballona Valley region of Los Angeles, California. This publication shares some of the results of my discoveries to be used for both educational and recreational purposes, but also is a "stand alone" publication of scientific natural history. Presented below is a story of a special species of tree for everyone to enjoy with an open heart to see the world anew.                     Robert Jan van de Hoek, Venice, California, October 14, 2016
          The Brazilian Pepper was imported to California from Brasil a very long time ago, more than 100 years ago at least, and perhaps as early as the California Gold Rush or even earlier during the Spanish Mission Period or Mexican Period of California history. By the early 20th Century, the Brazilian Pepper tree was widely planted in southern California. For example, George Tracy Hastings (1944: 98), while residing in Santa Monica, had written a book about the trees of that city based on observations during the Great Depression and World War II years, and stated clearly that the Brazilian Pepper was widely planted on the streets and in gardens of Santa Moncia. Here is an excerpt by George Hastings from his book: "A smaller, less graceful tree than the former, with much coarser leaves. Native of Brazil. Frequently planted here."

          The English name of Brazilian Pepper also has a Portuguese name in Brasil and a Spanish name in other parts of South America such as Uruguay and Argentina. And of course, there are many different names by the various indigenous peoples living near the Atlantic coast of South America. The scientific name is Schinus terebinthifolius.

          At Marina Del Rey Middle School in Los Angeles, California, approximately 17 young Brazilian Pepper trees were planted as small trees soon after the school was built more than 50 years ago. The land of the middle school had formerly been a farm that was tilled by Japanese-American family prior to World War II. And earlier still, the land of the middle school had been a natural wetland at the margin with upland with a very alkaline soil that supported an interesting ecology as a short-height meadow dominated by a native plant with an English name of Alkali Mallow. The scientific name of this native plant is Malvella leprosa. A few of these native Alkali Mallow are still remaining as a rare relict population adjacent to the middle school across Milton Street, where both ignorance and deliberate kind of war is being conducted against this increasingly rare California native plant that is so important to insect pollinators including native bees, native moths, and rare native butterflies.

          Of the original planting of approximately 17 Brazilian Pepper trees at the front entrance to Marina Del Rey Middle School, only 14 trees remain at this time. Four of these Brazilian Pepper trees are in large square cement planters and doing very well. These planters are now historic features and form a small protective wall for the trees where people, both children and adults can sit to rest or boldly go to jump upon and balance themselves for fun and to practice coordination and dexterity, as well as announce that I am taller like a tree such as the Brazilian Pepper. Birds perch and feed on the fruits in these Brazilian Pepper trees including native songbirds such as members of the Thrush Family such as the American Robin and Western Bluebird, but other birds feed on insects in these trees during migration such as warblers. Hummingbirds visit the flowers for nectar and the Northern Mockingbird is another resident non-migratory bird that eats the small red fruits but also sings in Spring and Summer from these Brazilian Pepper trees.

          Another 10 Brazilian Pepper are planted in three rows of three trees each in the front lawn of the school campus, with one tree standing alone now of what would also have been a row of 3 trees. All of the Brazilian Trees were pruned heavily by a landscaping firm hire under a contract by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) which was unnecessary and very poorly planned, especially in our severe California drought of the last several consecutive years, so we shall see if they survive, and certainly the trees are less suitable now for nesting birds or night-time resting and roosting birds. No consideration was given for the ecology importance of the trees such as for birds, nor for the trees themselves.

          A short distance away from Marina Del Middle School, of only a few hundred yards or about 1/4 mile to the west down Ballona Creek toward the sea, is the Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve established approximately 10 years ago by the Governor of California. At various points all along Ballona Creek from Culver City to the sea, one can find Brazilian Pepper trees growing on the levee walls that have colonized there from the original trees at the Marina Del Rey Middle School after being carried there by a mockingbird. And in the Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve, just past the highway bridge and past the State Highway 90 BALLONA PARKWAY, one can see from the Ballona Creek Bicycle Path, many Brazilian Pepper trees growing in the wild as natural trees, where native wildlife, including herbivores such as the native Audubon Rabbit and hawks such as the White-tailed Kite find suitable habitat, including food, shelter and places to rest under and atop the Brazilian Pepper trees. And native shrubs and native wildflowers show up near the Brazilian Pepper trees after their seeds have been dropped by native birds.

        A similar story of native Hawaiian trees recolonizing former farm land with Brazilian Pepper trees growing wild and natural, with the aid of native songbirds of Hawaii spreading the seeds of the native Hawaiian trees was discovered approximately 75 years ago on Oahu by a professional Connecticut ecologist named Frank Egler (1942), who was member of the Ecological Society of America (ESA). His research is nearly forgotten, but I have presented the relevance of that research here to show the importance of the Brazilian Pepper tree at Marina Del Rey Middle School for healing ecological nature at the Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve and along Ballona Creek in the greater Ballona Valley.

Egler, Frank E. 1942. Indigene Versus Alien in the Development of the Arid Hawaiian Vegetation. Ecology 23: 14-23.

Hastings, George. 1944. Trees of Santa Monica. Self-published. 44 pages.