Prepared by Dr. Andrew McDonald, PhD

in conjunction with the Environmental Awareness Club of UTPA

Editor's Note: The following environmental assessment was released Friday. We present it here for our readers' information. For more on the McAllen bond proposals, see the story posted earlier in the news section.

The land-scale of the McAllen Botanical Garden is substantial.

• The McAllen Botanical Garden represents the largest remaining tract of native vegetation in

the greater McAllen region (Mission, Edinburg, and Pharr included). 

• The large size of the Botanical Garden creates an easily accessed ‘get-away’ for needed escapes

from urban activities and distractions.  Adults and children, affluent and poor, are served equally.

• The natural character of the park’s dense and mature vegetation enhances the large-scale

effect by filtering out noise pollution efficiently and creating layers of visual barriers between

nature and civil life.

The forest in the McAllen Botanical Garden is biologically unique.

• Unlike most ‘Nature Centers’ and ‘Birding Centers’ in the Rio Grande Valley, including Quinta

Mazatlan, this tract does not bear the aspect of a reclaimed or rehabilitated site.

• As a tract that has been protected for more than a half-century, the Botanical Garden serves as a

refugium for the convention of several mature, native plant communities.  Since plant

communities determine the diversity and quantity of animals in all biotic communities, the

Botanical Garden is a well-spring of life.

• The dense shrublands and understory vegetation is exemplary of the region’s natural landscape,

and serves as a model for our community to observe, ponder and understand the region’s

natural heritage. 

The Botanical Gardens is the only place it is possible

to go for a hike in the city. High quality trails meander through dense and

mature vegetation

• Apart from preserving native life forms of the Valley, urban forests serve a useful role in mitigating

undesirable consequences of urban tarmacs, such as asphalt roadways, sidewalks, parking lots,

and tennis courts.  They inhibit fast water runoff during flooding episodes, conserve topsoil, and

lower temperatures of urban environments by absorbing heat instead of reflecting it immediately

into space.

Plant and animal diversity is great here, owing to the convergence of several

distinctive plant communities on the site.

• A mosaic of riparian (streamside) forest, mesquite forest, and native Tamaulipan scrub forest

covers the tract, each engendering a distinctive understory plant community.

• The old age of the dominant trees provide naturally decaying trunks, in which animals of all

varieties find food and room to make their homes.  This is the manner in which nature normally

operates and structures itself – but a way of life that is banished from manicured gardens, golf

courses, and playgrounds.

• The Garden sequesters two distinctive plant communities that were once common in the Valley

but are now rare in protected urban areas and the countryside: Coma-Mesquite associations and

dense stands of Lotebush shrubs.  Both of these plant communities are favored by birds and

mammals, as they provide good room and board—thorny cover and abundant sweet fruits.

• The Garden is bordered on its east and west boundaries by two canals, one of which harbors a

mature streamside (riparian) vegetation, the other a dense stand of Carrizos (cane) beside moving

waters.  In addition, Westside Park on the southside of the Garden protects several ponds and

wetlands.  Thus animals and plants enjoy a dependable supply of that precious ingredient to life in

the Rio Grande Valley:  WATER!   

The location of the Botanical Garden is ideal.

• The Botanical Garden is close to the pulse of the city’s burgeoning commercial and convention

centers in an area that is ripe for new upscale developments for which urban green space

would be highly attractive.  

• It is surrounded by appreciative middle-class and low-income communities and enhances the

quality of life in these communities. 

• Close access to playlands and recreation/sports facilities in adjacent Westside Park allows for

different land uses in the heart of growing city, for example rough and tumble activities vs.

peaceful walks and sanctuary for the Rio Grande Valley’s native creatures (people included). 

Bottom line: The bio-scape of McAllen Botanical Park is a unique and irreplaceable natural

resource of McAllen and neighboring cities.  Unlike tennis courts, this resource cannot be created just

anywhere, and to do so would require at least of century of stewardship.  Hence old-growth forest is,

essentially, a non-renewable resource.  This facility is a rare and invaluable vestige of the Rio

Grande Valley’s natural history and should be loved and shared by all citizens in this unique

corner of the world, where 95% of our natural terrain has long since been committed to urban

sprawl and agriculture. 

Appendix A: Species list, fauna

Date: April 18, 2010


Dr. Andrew McDonald                                                                  

Marissa Latigo

Javi Gonzalez

George Trujillo

Etzna Gomez 

Cassandra Rivas

Weather: Start: 72 F Winds 15 mph NW 

  End: 81 F Winds 5 mph W

Start Time: 10:30 am End Time: 3:30pm

Avian Species: 

Red crown Parrot

Golden Fronted Woodpecker

Northern Cardinal

Northern Mockingbird

Curve bill Thrasher

Great Kiskadee

Green Parakeets

Purple Martin

Inca Dove 

Mourning Dove

Brown Crested Flycatcher

Great Tail Grackle

White Eyed Vireo

Couches Kingbird

Olive Sparrow

Bronze Cowbird

Coopers Hawk

Scarlet Tanager


Great Blue Heron

Juv. Red Tail Hawk

Black Bellied Whistling Duck

Long Billed Thrasher

White Tail Hawk

Baltimore Oriole

White Wing Dove

Indigo Bunting

Turkey Vulture

Blue Grey Gnatcatcher

Black Crested Titmouse

Hummingbird species Ruby

Throated or Black-chinned

Empid Flycatcher species

Herp Species:

Texas Indigo Snake

Gulf Coast Toad Texas Spiny Lizard

Texas Spotted Whiptail

Butterfly Species:

Giant Swallowtail

Red Admiral

Little Yellow

Layside Sulfur

Orange Sulfur

American Snout 

Gulf Fritillary


Notes: Field study consisted of Dr. Andrew McDonald a Botanist and

Professor at the University of Texas – Pan American, UTPA Biology

students, and a UTPA Graduate. Javi Gonzalez, Etzna Gomez and Marissa

Latigo are avid bird watchers. Javi, Etzna, Marissa, and Jorge found a

Texas Indigo, which is an endangered and protected species.  


Appendix B: Species list, flora

Date: April 18, 2010

Completed by:  Dr. Andrew McDonald

Mature Riparian Forest – canopy 40-50’, trunks 1-2.5’ dbh:

Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

Coma (Sideroxylon celastrina)

Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Anacua (Ehretia anacua)

Washington’s palm   (Washingtonia robusta)

White Mulberry (Morus albus)

Popinac (Leaucaena leucocephala)

Guaiacum (Guaiacum angustifolium)

Carrizo (Arundo donax)

Mature Tamaulipan Scrub Forest:

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

       (to 3’ dbh, uprights & decumbents)

Granjeno (Celtis pallida)

Lotebush (Ziziphus obtusifolia)

Brasil (Condalia hookeri)

Engelmann’s Prickly Pear (Opuntia engelmanii)

Palo Verde (Cercidium macrum)

Palo Blanco (Celtis laevigata)

Huisache (Acacia farnesiana)

Pepper Vine (Ampelopsis arborea)

Toothache bush (Zanthoxylum fagara)

Barbed Wire Cactus (Acanthocereus pentagonus)

Coyotillo (Karwinskia humboldtiana)

cow itch (Cissus incisa)

Century Plant (Agave americana)

Central Arboretum – ancient specimens, Canopy 50’, trunks 1-3’ dbh:

Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)

Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolius)

Palo Blanco (Celtis laevigata)

Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum)

Vasey’s Adelia (Adelia vaseyi)

Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

Mesquite (Prosopis laevigata)

Brasil (Condalia hookeri)

Anacahuite (Cordia boissieri)

Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana)

Popinac (Leucaena leucocephala)

Washington’s palm (Washingtonia robusta)

Sabal Palm (Sabal texana)

Various cacti (Opuntia spp.)


Widows tears (Commelina erecta)

Texas Nightshade Solanum triquetrum)

snail seed (Cocculus menispermoides)

Crucita (Eupatorium odoratum)

Plain’s Bristlegrass (Setaria leucopila)

Stinkweed (Chenopodium berlandieri)

Mistletoe (Phoradendron tomentosum)

Tomatillo (Physalis sp.)

Climbing Milkweed (Funastrum


Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Unknown vine


Aloe sp.

Guinea Grass (Panicum maximum)

Buffle Grass (Pennisetum ciliaris)

Unknown vine