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In environmentalist circles here in South Florida, there's a lot of talk about the danger of invasive species, from our pesky iguana population to the Australian Pine Needle. Of course, the main threat is that these species will push out native ones: in the case of the pine, their needles litter forest floors, cuting off the chance of native growth below. The Burmese Python is one of Florida's most destructive predators, eating a staggering variety of native wildlife in the Everglades-- so much so that Florida Fish and Wildlife trains and pays people to hunt them.

Despite the real harm done to our natural ecosystem by these flora and fauna, I can't help but think that our surroundings are constantly evolving. That's why I'm most interested in transforming, rather than eradicating, our relationship to these species and looking past the stigma to really adapt to our current situation. Iguanas, lionfish, and wild boar rampant? How about looking to them for their meat, as suggested by an Edible South Florida article a couple of years back? Australian pine is a great alternative to Christmas trees trucked here from Oregon and Washington, and they encourage their harvest at Arch Creek Park East.

One of my favorite invasive species to take advantage of is the Brazilian Pepper Tree. Brought here by a botanist years ago as an ornamental bush with lovely red berries (reminiscent of Holly), it soon spread wild throughout Central and South Florida, not only taking up space where native trees once were but also affecting our native bird population. Their red berries pop up a couple of months before the holidays, and as soon as I see them, I harvest immediately. My motivation is two-fold: less of the berries in the wild means less that are spread by birds or wind. They are also a tasty alternative to pink peppercorn. Sweet with a curious, pepper-like finish, they are a nice addition to fish, chicken, even salad dressings. Fair warning, though: while some tout Brazilian pepper's medicinal qualities, they are also considered mildly toxic particularly to those with poison ivy and mango allergies.

When life gives you iguanas, make a coconut stew doesn't quite have the same ring to it, but that's the idea!

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