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Ebony Loop Free Guided Nature Walks Offered Twice a Month in Harlingen

by Anita Westervelt

Runyon’s Violet Wild Petunia by Anita Westervelt

Harlingen’s Hugh Ramsey Nature Park boasts 250 some species of Rio Grande Valley native plants, shrubs, trees, cactus and the untold numbers of birds, butterflies and critters that use this native habitat.

Many of the plants are highlighted in specialty gardens around the park’s Ebony Loop and the path is lined with many different species of trees native to the Valley.

Rio Grande Valley Chapter, Texas Master Naturalist volunteers maintain these gardens and trails, working as a team every Thursday morning from 9 to 11 a.m. Many Winter Texans and local residents work alongside the naturalists. Volunteers are always welcome.

In addition to the Thursday morning volunteer opportunity, Texas master naturalist native plant experts provide free guided nature walks on the first Friday and third Saturday each month through May 2018.

There’s always something blooming around Ebony Loop. You’re probably familiar with a hummingbird favorite, the native wild olive, Cordia boissieri, that blooms its big white, bell-shaped blossoms in all seasons here in the Valley. Mexican caesalpinia, Caesalpinia mexicana, is showy most of the year, too, and into the winter. Large clusters of bright yellow blooms also are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Texas Ebony in bloom after a rain by Anita Westervelt

Considered the rarest of all trees in Texas, Runyon’s Esenbeckia, Esenbeckia berlandieri [E. runyonii] is showcased in the Loop’s recently rejuvenated Robert Runyon Garden. Also called limoncillo (little lemon), it is in the Rutaceae family, as are lemons. The tree was first reported in the Lower Rio Grande Valley by Robert Runyon.

Runyon was a photographer and self-taught botanist in Brownsville in the early 1900s. He later was involved in local politics and served as Brownsville city manager and mayor. Runyon is responsible for naming several cactus and succulents including Coryphantha robertii, Echeveria runyonii, Echinocereus runyonii Orcutt, other native plants and grasses, and the curious phenomenon called Runyon’s Dodder, Cuscuta runyonii.

While renovating Runyon Garden, the Thursday morning volunteers populated much of the center garden with Runyon’s Violet Wild Petunia, Ruellia nudiflora var. runyonii, and developed a side garden dedicated to Runyon’s Water Willow, Justicia runyonii. Both plants are a host to the malachite butterfly. Runyon’s granddaughter donated funds for the revamping of the garden that was dedicated to the works of her grandfather.

Runyon’s Esenbeckia by Anita Westervelt

One of the mysteries of our native trees is that many of them bloom after rain. With the recent rains, it’s a good opportunity to see which trees will begin pushing out winter blooms.

Ebony Loop is an easy quarter mile level caliche trail. Wear sturdy shoes, bring water and bug spray for yourself if desired. Restrooms are located at the park entrance.

Hugh Ramsey Nature Park is at 1000 South 499, just two miles south of Harlingen’s Valley International Airport or Ed Carey Drive, just north of the Arroyo Colorado River Bridge.

Meet up with the guides in the parking lot where the two-hour tour begins at 9 a.m.

Texas Master Naturalist guided native plant walks:

  • December 16
  • January 5 and 20
  • February 2 and 17
  • March 2 and 17
  • April 6 and 21
  • May 4 and 19
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