BROWNSVILLE – The first palm tree were seen by the early Spanish explorers. were a species of palm called the Sabal Mexicana or Sabal Texana. It was a Sabal palm. It was in 1519 when Alonso Alvarez de Pineda came around the Gulf of Mexico exploring the land. He found what was called the Rio de Los Palmas and there is a confusion because some people think that it was the Panuco River in Veracruz or the Rio Grande. There was a huge forest of palms that was down on the delta and that was what we now call of the remnant of it is called Sabal Palm Sanctuary and those were the original palms.
The transformation came after the coming of the railroad. When the great land boom took place after the coming of the railroad, in the teens going onto the 20’s on both sides of World War I, that’s when the developers really started looking at the landscape and thought is was too bleak, not enough romance. Wanting to make it a more tropical terrain, they brought in palm trees. These trees came from southern California. The species of palms that are seen in the RGV are actually from the coast of Sonora and Baja, California called Washingtonian Robusta. They were brought in by the truckloads and they dotted the streets and the roads that were here in the Rio Grande Valley in the early days.
There was another palm that was brought in but is no longer here was the Canary Island Date Palm. That palm had a crown of beautiful clusters of dates coming through. It satisfied the romantic image that the original developers wanted for this part of the country. Unfortunately, there was a blight that took place on the Canary Island Date Palm and several other species and it killed them all off. It’s rare to even find a Canary Island Date Palm in the Rio Grande Valley. Nursery growers brought in all other species. Developers brought in literally a hundred or more different species of palms and some of the palms remain here today.
If you see postcards that are reflective of the way that the Rio Grande Valley was back in the 50’s, you’re going to see all of these date palms and the palm lined roads going out into the countryside. Through the years there have been a few freezes that occurred and knocked killed off a good number. All of this went in to making the land that we live in today. It was a canvas that we used to paintbrush in order to make even more beautiful than it actually was in the very beginning.