The Value of a Native Plant

Megachilid Bee - John Brush

Leaf-cutter Bee: Native plants support insects like this Leaf-cutter bee

We often appreciate plants for very specific, and often obvious, reasons. We value them for the food they provide us; a personal favorite being avocados. Others we value for the clothes they provide (cotton), or the homes they help build (timber trees), or for their aesthetic beauty – the roses and lilies of the world. Here in the Valley, we especially might value tall, woody plants (trees) for their shade. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, neighborhoods with mature trees can be 4-6 °F cooler than new suburbs without trees – if that’s the difference between 100°F and 94°F, I’d quickly choose to live in the first neighborhood.

While these ecosystem services are vitally important to us, there are an array of other benefits that plants give us, and not all of them as obvious or direct. One such benefit is that of biodiversity. Now, yes, this does seem fairly obvious and straight forward on some level – if we have more vegetation in our yards and neighborhoods, the more species of birds and other wildlife we will see. But the value of that biodiversity lies in a few less easily characterized realms; supporting services and cultural services.

While the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services is complicated, we do know it affects services through ecosystem functioning. Study into biodiversity and ecosystem functioning has revealed a couple major trends: biodiversity loss reduces functions of ecosystems (such as that of producing biomass and nutrient cycling) and increased biodiversity positively influences the resilience of those ecosystem functions.

Yet despite biodiversity providing and supporting basic needs of life (food, nutrient cycling, etc.), it also has important implications for human happiness and health. A study in the United Kingdom found that if people perceived there to be more biodiversity, the more psychological well-being they felt. A similar study in Chicago found that the valuations of benefits provided by birds positively related to the perception of the number of bird species.

Here we arrive to the heart of the matter: how do different plants affect biodiversity? In a two-year University of Texas Rio Grande Valley study, there was a significant positive relationship between bird diversity and the number of native trees planted in yards, but not one for the total number of trees planted. This implies that native trees are making a difference for overall bird diversity in our neighborhoods!

One reason for this could be that native plants support greater diversity and abundance of insects than non-native plants. In one study, Dr. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist from the University of Delaware, found that three generalist caterpillar species either starved or barely grew on non-native plant foliage. In another, he and colleagues found that yards landscaped with native plants supported more caterpillars than those with non-native plants, and that birds of conservation concern were 8 times more abundant in native landscaped yards.

All this leads to the general conclusion that biodiversity matters, native plants support more biodiversity, and we can make a difference with the space in our yards and neighborhoods. We can enhance our lives, and the lives of wildlife around us, in a simple way – plant more natives. In celebration of these important and beautiful native plants, Quinta Mazatlan is hosting Dr. Tallamy as he gives the keynote presentation for the third annual Planta Nativa event on October 19th. It will feature food, drinks, an art walk, and live music. Tickets are available at Quinta Mazatlan. For information call 956-681-3370.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photos by John Brush

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TBT: Iron Gates

stately-simple-but-effective-iron-gate-to-the-courtyard-1

Stately simple but, effective iron gate to the courtyard.

It was no mystery that the Matthews expressed strong Pro-American views and were anti-Communist. They edited and published the American Mercury magazine from Quinta Mazatlán and Mrs. Matthews was known to do a radio broadcast promoting pro-American views. The design and construction of Quinta Mazatlán was meticulously done in Spanish Colonial Revival architecture to secure and seclude themselves from the outside world if need be.

One of the architectural features of the Spanish Revival is a courtyard. Quinta Mazatlán is designed in a U-shape with a courtyard. The courtyard’s gates are of ornamental and decorative wrought iron design. Finely crafted iron gates are either straight or single arch top with vertical bars and scroll designs. The ornamental iron work has withstood the test of time. Two of the gates stand an imposing 6’ by 8’and another stands a modest 4’ by 4’. These gates have had many a guests enter and exit the courtyard. A crude but

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Dignified Iron Gate to the courtyard.

efficient sliding bolt system is used to secure and lock the gates. One can only imagine the many interesting guests that have passed through these gates.

The courtyard gates are always open these days at Quinta Mazatlán, allowing our guests to enjoy the estate. Quinta Mazatlán is the City of McAllen’s urban sanctuary that continuously works to enrich people’s lives by sharing knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas.

Tours have begun and will continue weekly through April 2018. All public tours are included in admission fee: $2 Children under 12, $2 Senior Citizens and $3 Adults. Free admission to members and children ages 4 years & under. Private bookings are available. For groups with 10 or more are required to call in advance and schedule a Private Tour. Call us at 956-681-3370 for more information.

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Sliding bolt lock to iron gates to the courtyard.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

Buff-bellied Gummingbird 2 5-27-16

Female Buff-bellied Hummingbird feeding her young.

The Buff-bellied Hummingbird breeds near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from south Texas to Mexico. It is probably the least-studied hummingbird that regularly occurs in the United States. The oldest recorded Buff-bellied Hummingbird was a male, and at least 11 years, 2 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Texas.

The coloration of this hummingbird is very unique. It has green upperparts, red bill with dark tip, rufous tail and Cinnamon-buff belly.

The nesting season extends at least from April to August. Nest site is usually in large shrub or small deciduous tree, such as hackberry or Texas ebony, usually only a few feet above the ground. Nest (built by female) is a cup of plant fibers, stems, shreds of bark, spider webs, lined with plant down. The outside is camouflaged with bits of lichen, flower petals.

The incubation of two white eggs is by female only, probably 2 weeks or longer. The female feeds the young, sticking her bill deep into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, perhaps mixed with nectar. They may raise two broods per year.

Want to learn more about the Buff-bellied Hummingbird or other native South Texas animals? Call to schedule a private one-of-a-kind outdoor Sculpture Trail Tour and develop an appreciation for the vast variety of creatures that call our region home. Each sculpture provides insight into the natural history of the Rio Grande Valley. At each turn of a trail, there’s a new creature to discover.

Call us at 956-681-3370 for more information.

Summer Sleuth: Zacatecas Mural

Zacatecas mural

Zacatecas talavera tile mural at Quinta Mazatlán.

“LABOR VINCIT OMNIA” is a phrase inscribed in one of the talavera tile murals at Quinta Mazatlán that baffles visitors. After a look around and a Google search, visitors understand why this mural was chosen. There are various talavera tile murals in the mansion that Jason and Marcia Matthews commissioned and placed in the home. One that oddly stands out, is in the formal dining room, a tribute to Zacatecas, Mexico. It has been noted and reported that the adventuress couple traveled extensively to Mexico and brought back ideas and treasures to the home. Since the mansion was built by hard work and grueling labor, might be one of the reasons for this mural.

As the story goes, during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), Zacatecas, with its central location in the Republic, was unable to escape the devastation of war. In June 1914, the City of Zacatecas was the center of national attention when the city was taken by Pancho Villa and his Dorados in the famous battle known as La Toma de Zacatecas (The Taking of Zacatecas). The City of Zacatecas witnessed the largest and bloodiest battle that took place in the fighting against General Victoriano Huerta. When the battle ended, some 7,000 soldiers lay dead. In addition, 5,000 combatants were wounded and a large number of civilians were injured or killed.

The mural at Quinta Mazatlán is a replica of the seal of the city of Zacatecas. The seal depicts the hill of La Bufa in honor of the rich silver mines in the area, a silver cross, an image of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus after being seen on the hill, in the two upper ends are the Sun and the Moon in a blue sky, the four soldiers that discovered the rocky hill and it is surrounded by weapons of bows and arrows belonging to the native inhabitants. The inscription above reads: “MUY NOBLE Y LEAL CUIDAD DE ZACATECAZ” which means “Very Noble and Loyal City of Zacatecas”. The bottom is inscribed with “LABOR VINCIT OMNIA” which means “Work Conquers All”.

The meaning of this famous motto, “Work Conquers All”, indicates that with hard work, there will be prosperity. The motto was inspired by a book by Virgil called ‘Geogics’ which was written in support of Augustus Caesar’s “Back to the land” policy which was aimed at encouraging more Romans to become farmers. Whether tradesmen, cowboys or farmers the thoughts apply to all those who wish to be successful and to prosper.

Quinta Mazatlán has been successful and prosperous in all our programs and activities this summer. As the summer winds down and school is back in session, we hope our young visitors take the phrase “LABOR VINCIT OMNIA” to heart and be successful and prosperous in all they do. Quinta Mazatlán will continue to provide the community with an urban sanctuary working to enrich people’s lives by sharing knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas. Come out to Quinta Mazatlán and capture a picture of the Zacatecas Mural. Post it on any of our Social Media and tag Quinta Mazatlán. Most creative photos will be highlighted by Quinta Mazatlán next week. Get to sleuthing!

 

Red-eared slider turtle

Red eared slidder turtle

Red-eared slider turtle sliding into slow moving creek to cool off.

The red-eared slider turtle is a small freshwater turtle native to the Mississippi Valley in the southern United States. Red eared sliders are a medium-sized freshwater turtle, generally 125–200 mm long, but can grow up to 350 mm long. Females are usually larger than males.

The carapace and skin is olive to brown with yellow stripes or spots. While specimens in captivity tend to have neat shells, usually the shells of wild species are covered by a layer of algae, hide their distinctive patterns and colors.

Red Ear Slider Turtles preferred habitats include a range of slow-moving or still freshwater lakes and ponds. Red ear slider turtle readily tolerate artificial ponds and lakes, and often thrive in dams that have been polluted by excessive organic matter. They can tolerate human-made canals, brackish marshes, and ponds in city parks.

Adult red ear turtles tend to be herbivores, and juveniles tend to be more omnivorous. Both prey on mollusks and invertebrates. They are known to eat fish, frogs’ eggs and tadpoles, and water snakes.

They eat a variety of aquatic plants and algae, including a number of harmful aquatic weeds such as water hyacinth. While capable of eating small vertebrates – including small reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fish and birds – fish and birds are very rarely part of their diet.

Sexual maturity is reached at 2-5 years of age. Maximum life-span is generally in the order of 20-30 years age. Red ear slider turtle can wander up to 9 km from water to find suitable habitat, search for a mate or lay eggs.

Want to learn more about Red ear slider turtle or other native South Texas animals? Call to schedule a private one-of-a-kind outdoor Sculpture Trail Tour and develop an appreciation for the vast variety of creatures that call our region home. Each sculpture provides insight into the natural history of the Rio Grande Valley. At each turn of a trail, there’s a new creature to discover.

Call us at 956-681-3370 for more information.

Summer Sleuth: National Mail Order Catalog Day

Employees working

Employees would take online orders to process and ship out.

“The friendliest grapefruit tycoon in Texas”, was a name used to identify Mr. Frank Schultz in an article in the December 1980 Texas Monthly magazine. He had many successful businesses at the time, one which was the Crest Fruit Company in Alamo, Texas. Through the Crest Fruit label he created many mail order catalog businesses.

From 1966 to 1986 his Royal Ruby Red Grapefruits were sold under the “Frank Lewis” and “Red Cooper” catalog labels. Fresh grapefruit, canned grapefruit juice and orange juice were sold to people from up north and local fundraising projects. In 2002, he expanded to include Alamo’s Best Smokehouse Meats (Smoked Meats) and Café’ Sabroso (Coffee) to his mail order catalog selections.

In 2006, Mr. Schultz expanded the catalog business and introduced sweet onions. The trade mark name of the mail order catalog businesses were “Don’t Shed a Tear, Sweet Onions are here!” and “Sweet Onion Express”. By adding to his previous the catalog selections were increasing.

The year 2006 was also a turning point for the mail order business to go online. Mr. Schultz took the opportunity to go online and opened up an online retail store named “SweetOnionExpress.com”. This online retail store had services in the field of gift packages for Christmas, holidays and other occasions, featuring fruits, vegetables, herbs, seasonings, sauces, kitchen tools, cookbooks, snacks, and desserts.

Mr. Frank Schultz felt he was a “blessed man with a product that is addicting.”

Hi Im Frank Lewis

Frank used this letter to pitch his grapefruit mail order business. Letters would be sent out to potential customers.

Summer Sleuth: Spanish clay roof tiles!

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Walk in closet roof extension added by the Schultz family. Barrel shaped clay tiles.

Quinta Mazatlán has been in existence since the late 1930s. Jason and Marcia Matthews followed the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture on the home both inside and out. The inside of the home is accented with Talavera tile and the roof is made of terracotta clay tiles. The clay tiles have superior aesthetics that bring authenticity to the home. The Spanish clay roof tiles are patterned either as a “S” or barrel shape. The building design and installation has made the roof last for over 70 years. The roof tiles are beautiful with the added benefit of being extremely durable. This durability has served the tile well, as it has lasted through the brutal South Texas climate.

The only noted damage sustained to the roof was in September 1967, when Hurricane Beulah ravished the valley. Some portions of the roof sustained damage, which then had to be replaced.

In 1968 when Frank and Marilyn Schultz purchased Quinta Mazatlán, seamless repairs

old meets new

New meets old clay tiles used to repair roof after Hurricane Beulah.

were made to the roof. Terracotta clay roof tiles were purchased to match the originals. Any upkeeps and all additions to the home have followed the same concept in keeping the home genuine to the original structural design.

The Matthews or Schultz families, being environmentally conscious, chose clay roof tiles that are made from naturally occurring materials, therefore not depleting precious natural resources. The tiles are manufactured without chemical preservatives. Moreover, clay roof tiles are energy efficient: because of the superior thermal capacity of roof tiles and the ventilated air space that their placement on the roof surface creates. A clay tile roof can lower air conditioning costs in hotter climates and produces more constant temperatures.

S shaped tiles

Original “S” shaped clay tiles on Quinta Mazatlán date back to the 1930s.

Quinta Mazatlán’s terracotta clay roof tiles have superior aesthetics, durability, longevity, and cost effectiveness. It was a wise choice back in the 1930’s and it still is today. A visit to the historical estate is beneficial to the visitor because this urban sanctuary is working to enrich people’s lives by sharing knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas.

Come out to Quinta Mazatlán and capture a picture of the “Spanish clay roof.” Post it on any of our Social Media and tag Quinta Mazatlán. Most creative photos will be highlighted by Quinta Mazatlán next week. Get to sleuthin!

Bird tile cap

Roof end cap clay tile honoring Quinta Mazatlán – World Birding Center!