The five-acre Cottonwood Gallery is located at the north end of the Botanic Garden and accessed through the old-time Rio Grande Heritage Farm.
The garden showcases a restored bosque with a canopy of mature cottonwoods and an understory of native trees and bushes. The natural area attracts interesting wildlife, including roadrunners, kestrels, porcupines and great-horned owls. The palette of plantings includes species used by animals for forage and shelter, and Botanic Garden staff expect wildlife sightings to increase as the habitat continues to be restored.
Wetlands and shaded paths provide quiet places to watch for animals. The Cottonwood Gallery, which opened on August 30, 2013, is part of the original vision for the Botanic Garden that was created in the 1990s. BioPark staff will continue to develop the exhibit with native plantings, an educational space and expanded trails.
More About the Cottonwood Gallery
Gak gak gak gak gak, a Cooper’s hawk calls from a nest high in the branches of a cottonwood in the new Cottonwood Gallery. Moments earlier the raptor had sailed overhead to the nest while three staff and volunteers quietly discussed wildlife of the bosque. This project started in earnest in January with the idea to restore, conserve and exhibit the native riparian habitat already a part of the BioPark property. Historically, the Rio Grande periodically flooded beyond the reaches of its current banks, over the land that is now the BioPark and as far east as 2nd street. The meandering course of the river created wetlands and oxbows, supporting a dynamic ecosystem. No longer influenced by natural flooding, the community of plants changed–hearty invasive species moved in and recreation activities along the bosque (and in old "San Gabriel Park") took their toll on the land.
So what does it take to reclaim and restore the BioPark’s own little sliver of bosque? A BioPark-wide and even community-wide effort! The exhibit design started with a vision from Ralph Charlton and Maria Thomas. Staff and hundreds of volunteers cleared out the remnants of San Gabriel Park--trash, picnic benches, BBQ grills, trash, cement, trash…
Horticulture and construction staff built paths, berms, created pond and oxbow depressions, and brought in hundreds of native plants like cottonwood, apache plume, three leaf sumac, wood’s rose, big tooth maple, four-wing saltbush, sand sage and more. As the landscape changed, wildlife flocked in. Woodhouse toads, Eastern bluebirds, coyotes, porcupine, owls and even the nesting Cooper ’s hawk are making this exhibit their home.
These five acres of restored gallery forest have brought the BioPark community together through a conservation project that is a legacy for the park. Take a few minutes to walk the quiet paths, look up for porcupines, look down for toads, look around for wildflowers, coyote dens, and cottonwood seedlings, and look out across the tree tops to see the bosque and the Rio Grande beyond our boundaries.
Contributed by Tallie Segel, Botanic Garden & Aquarium Education Coordinator.