Invasive species—non-native plants, animals and wildlife that often overtake indigenous species—are a big problem across the Lone Star State. A menace to the health and happiness of all Texans, these pests cost our national economy an estimated $120 billion per year. Some plant invaders completely remake ecosystems, altering natural fire patterns, land productivity and the patterns of resident animals. And many non-native animals have devastated local fish and wildlife communities, their numbers growing unchecked by the lack of competition and natural predators.
The Nature Conservancy is working to raise awareness of invasive species and teach Texans that one of the best—and by far, most creative—ways to control some of our state’s most common critters is to simply eat them! We've partnered with Austin chefs Ned and Jodi Elliot, who have developed unique and delicious recipes using some of Texas’ most pernicious invasives. Here they are for your culinary—and patriotic—enjoyment!
Feral Hog (aka Wild Boar)
By far the most belligerent of all invasive species, wild boars have been roaming Texas since the 1930s, when Russian hogs imported for sport hunting escaped and bred with domesticated pigs. The Lone Star State is now home to as many as 1.5 million feral hogs and they are doing irreparable damage. Their digging erodes soil, uproots trees and disturbs native vegetation; their voracious appetite drives them to consume everything from native quail, deer and livestock feed to the eggs of endangered sea turtles. But if you like to spend your weekend in camouflage, you’re in luck—Texas has no hunting limits on this species, meaning you could be feasting on this pernicious critter by the weekend.
What could be better than a lime tart topped with Himalayan blackberry jam? It’s definitely one of the better ways to deal with the scourge of the Himalayan blackberry, which was introduced to North America circa 1885 and now grows throughout East and Central Texas. With its prickly thorns and deep roots, this native of Eurasia grows aggressively, blanketing stream beds and creeping over native vegetation, ultimately smothering it. But get your ovens ready—the blackberry begins to blossom in early spring and ripens fully by late summer.
Giant Tiger Prawn
The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most diverse bodies of water in the world—but there’s at least one inhabitant ruining the neighborhood. The giant tiger prawn measures 12 inches long and can weigh nearly a half-pound, and its appetite is as notable as its black and white striped tail. Several theories abound as to how this native of southeast Asia made its way to the Gulf, but what’s not in question is its potential impact; this insatiable crustacean preys on native crabs and oysters and competes with brown and white Gulf shrimp for food, which disrupts the Gulf’s delicate circle of life. Get your boiling pots ready and help us evict this overbearing neighbor.
Bastard Cabbage (aka Common Giant Mustard, Turnip Weed)
Make no mistake: these are not the leafy greens your mother told you about. Likely introduced to the U.S. by contaminated grass seed mixes, the bastard cabbage is a familiar sight in open areas of disturbed soil—along miles and miles of Texas highways, in ditches and around agricultural areas. Seemingly innocuous and actually quite pretty with its small clusters of yellow flowers, the plant grows quickly and can reach as high as five feet, dominating the landscape and suppressing native plants and wildflowers. But with a stocked pantry and a little creativity, this plant can add a big bang to your weekday meal.