Sabal Palms Sanctuary
Sabal Palms Sanctuary is a 557-acre nature reserve and bird sanctuary located in the delta of the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville. It is noted for being one of the last locations in the Rio Grande Valley with a profuse grove of sabal palms, an edible-heart-bearing palm much prized by pre-Hispanic inhabitants and noted by early explorers. It is a prized birdwatching and butterfly watching location for persons interested in ecology of the Valley and adjacent states of northern Mexico.
It is estimated that there were once over 60,000 acres of native Sabal Palm forest lining the banks of the Rio Grande. Today, due to cleaning of the land for agricultural usage, fewer than 100 acres remain. This particular palm tree, Sabal Mexicana, is found throughout much of Mexico but in the United States it is limited to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Here at Sabal Palm Sanctuary we're fortunate to have one of the largest remnant groves of this sub-tropical ecosystem.
While relatively small, the palm forest is considered one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the county. Over 300 species of plant and over 300 species of bird have been recorded here along with thousands of species of insects. In fact, a 3 year sure of the palm grove by Texas A&M University entomologists identified over 1.080 different species of beetle alone from the Sanctuary!
Rare cats, such as ocelot and jaguarundi, while not seen often do have a historical presence in the preserve and bobcats are a common sighting along with armadillos, coyotes, and a whole host of other mamma's reptiles, and amphibians. The diversity within the Sanctuary is staggering with a significant number of species known from nowhere else in the United States.
Now referred to as the Rabb Plantation, this property was originally known as Rancho San Tomas. It encompasses over 20,000 acres stretching north from the banks of the Rio Grande to the Arroyo Colorado. In 1885, Miffin Kenedy conveyed San Tomas to his stepdaughter, Maria Vicenta Starck. In 1892, after the marriage of Frank Rabb to her daughter, Lillian, Maria Vicenta Starck transferred 1/2 undivided interest in San Tomas to Frank Rabb. That same year, the Rabb and Starck families built a Queen Anne style house that served as the working headquarters of the plantation. It represented the living style and upward mobility of the entrepreneurs and political elite of South Texas at the end of the 19th century. Its Victorian architecture signified a shift from the sprawling southwest ranches and "border brick" tradition, and is the only example of its type in Cameron County.
In the 1970s, the acreage around the house was conveyed to the National Audubon Society and established as a sanctuary for wildlife. In 2010, after the two years, the Gorgas Science Foundation entered into an agreement with Audubon to take over management and reopen the Sanctuary. In 2013, Gorgas completed restoration of the Rabb Plantation house which now serves as visitors center and headquarters from the Sanctuary.
Family (1 year): $35
Individual (1 year): $15