May 26

Species profile: Leatherleaf Mahonia

Over the past few weeks, folks in the Midatlantic and Southeastern United States might have seen a holly-like plant with large clusters of deep purple fruits that resemble grapes.  Although the leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) is widely available in garden centers as an ornamental shrub, it is considered an invasive species in some Southeastern states.

Photo Credit: Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University

A member of the barberry family, the leatherleaf mahonia was introduced to the United States in the 1800’s.  It is native to China, Taiwan, and Japan but is now common in the forest understory from Maryland down to Florida.

The thick, shiny leaves of the leatherleaf mahonia are compound (meaning that there are many small leaflets that make up one larger leaf), with bright yellow-green leaflets that resemble spiky holly leaves.  The petiole connecting the leaflets is reddish in color.  Flowers bloom in late winter, and fruits emerge in early spring, ripening in the end of April or early May.  Edible, deep purple, waxy berries grow in large clusters like grapes.

If you are lucky enough to grab some berries before the birds get them, these tart fruits can be used like most other berries in pies, jams, and chutneys.  And as always, if you come up with a good invasivore recipe for leatherleaf mahonia berries, please let us know!

May 16

Friday Feast! May 16, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

May 09

Friday Feast! May 9, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

May 02

Friday Feast! May 2, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

Apr 11

Friday Feast! April 11, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

Apr 07

Species profile: “Bradford” (or Callery) pear

If you are a resident of a city in the Midwest or Southern USA, have a look to the roadsides or empty lots as you take a drive on the outskirts of town this spring.  At this time of year, there’s a good chance you’ll see bunches of dense, bright white flowers on some of the mid-sized trees, as in the photo below.  Where I am, in eastern Tennessee, this first flowering tree (just before dogwoods and apple trees) sometimes occurs in clusters so thick it looks like a newly fallen snow.   Though they are admittedly pretty against the mostly still brown backdrop of spring, these are problematic invaders- commonly referred to as “Bradford” pear tree, an ornamental introduced from China, whose official name is Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana, distinct from Asian pear, Pyrus pyrifolia).

pear trees along roadside

Pear trees invading roadside habitat. Creative commons license from Britt Slattery, US Fish and Wildlife Service,, via

Callery pears (called Bradford pears in common usage because one of the most popular cultivated varieties is “Bradford”) were first introduced as an ornamental tree in the 1960s, though were previously grown as early as 1900 as a rootstock.  They were assumed to pose a low threat of invasion due to self-incompatibility in which a given cultivar could not pollinate any trees of the same cultivar.  However, as the number of cultivars have grown to several dozen, and as the tree has been planted more commonly, the genetically differentiated cultivars can cross pollinate and bear fruit with viable seeds.  Unfortunately, it is now so common that it is almost a tree of choice in new suburbs due to its fast growth, attractive flowers and tidy cone shape.  Birds eat the now abundant tiny pears and spread the seeds far and wide, so that Bradford pears are increasingly found along roadsides and in open fields.  (For those interested, the distance between trees along the interstate gives a pretty good idea of the seed dispersal distances, with large clusters and then some lone trees hundreds of meters down the road.)

The pear trees cause numerous problems for those in the suburb and beyond.  In addition to the overwhelming floral scent that some (like me!) find noxious, the trees have extremely weak wood and are prone to limb breakage, which can damage cars, homes and powerlines (see photo below).  In dense stands, the pear tree also outcompete native trees.  They are quite tolerant to many soil types and shade, and are reported as established outside cultivation in at least two dozen states.  Their abundant fruit set and wide dispersal capabilities means that one escaped tree will soon become many!

broken tree in front of home

Broken pear tree in residential area. Creative commons license from David J. Moorhead, University of Georgia,, via

But invasivores may take heart because the fruits are reportedly edible and can be made into jams or wine!  Pear wood is also a beautiful fine wood for carving or furniture.  In addition to removing the fruit and the trees themselves, you can help by choosing native species that also have high ornamental value for their beautiful blooms this time of year, including redbud and dogwood.  Read more about those native trees here!

Apr 04

Friday Feast! April 4, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

Apr 01


We’ve seen a spike in web traffic due to a recent article in Modern Farmer, so we figured today would be a great day to reintroduce a spin-off concept we first introduced in 2011.

Over the years at, we’ve been humbled by the support we’ve received, and we’re thrilled that so many people have joined us in keeping invasive species on their minds and on their plates!  Inspired by our ability to increase invasive species awareness by sharing delicious recipes featuring biological invaders, we have decided to expand our blog to highlight another critical environmental issue- the plight of threatened and endangered species.  Beginning today and for the entire month of April, we’ll be spreading endangered species awareness with all new delicious recipes featuring only the most imperiled of ingredients!

Endangered species are those organisms whose populations have dropped to critically small sizes, thus facing risk of permanent extinction, often due to hunting, habitat destruction, and other human impacts.  For one of the most authoritative lists of endangered species worldwide, please visit the IUCN Red List.  To read more about what’s being done to save endangered species and how you can help, we recommend that you check out the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.  And be sure to check back in the coming weeks for recipes such as:


California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) egg omelet!

Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) soup!

Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) steak and bamboo shoot stir-fry!

(all photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

(Article originally published 4-1-11; Just as with the original… April Fools!)

Mar 28

Friday Feast! March 28, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

Mar 15

Friday Feast! March 14, 2014

Eating invasive species news and notes from around the internet!

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