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Beautiful Killers

These photographs are part of a work-in-progress created as an Artist-in-Residence at Big Cypress National Preserve during February 2015.  Despite the beauty of many plants and animals, a dark side can be unleashed when they are moved from their original environment through our actions.  Native plants and animals fall prey after the imported visitor establishes itself and becomes dominant.  The spread of non-native species is a global issue and is a problem with which Florida and the National Park Service has much experience.  This sampling peeks into the artistic process: Should the subjects be presented as studio close-ups or in their outdoor settings?  Should they center on plants or should they include animals too?

Lantana:  Originating from Central and South America, this shrub grows up to 6 feet (2 meters) or more.  The color of the flowers within the same cluster can be different and they change over time.  Lantana is found throughout Florida in roadsides, pastures, citrus groves as well as pinelands, hammocks and beach dunes.  Forming dense thickets, Lantana crowds out native plants.

Melaleuca:  This species was brought to Florida in the late 19th century as a garden plant and to drain swampy land.  Flourishing in pine flatwoods, sawgrass marshes and cypress swamps, the trees reach 100 feet (33 meters) in height and form dense thickets that displace native plants and diminish food for wildlife.

Brazilian Pepper:  This evergreen shrub grows to 43 feet tall (13 meters) and is native in parts of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.  When crushed, the leaves smell like pepper or turpentine.  Brought as an ornamental plant, Brazilian Pepper has rapidly spread throughout Florida.  It shades out and displaces native vegetation and has already impacted some rare species.

Australian Pine:  Competing plants don’t stand a chance when enough needles rain down to form a smothering blanket.  The Australian Pine was brought as an ornamental and planted along canals and field borders to provide shelter from the wind.  Originally from Burma, Vietnam, Malesia, parts of Australia and New South Wales, this evergreen grows up to 150 feet (46 meters).

Burmese Python:  These snakes from Asia can reach 20 feet (6 meters) and weigh more than 200 pounds (90 kilograms).  They are now in Southern Florida after being released or escaping from pet owners and animal dealers.  Their large size poses a risk to threatened and endangered native species.  Alligators and deer have been swallowed whole by the python.


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