Chaparral Demonstration Garden


Medina River Natural Area (MRNA) is a 511-acre dynamic environment with native plants and animals where people can experience nature. It’s located along the Medina River in South San Antonio. It offers transitional plant communities, including riparian, ecotone and chaparral. The biodiversity of MRNA exceeds that of other natural areas in the City of San Antonio. It’s the only city natural area in San Antonio’s south side and the only permanently flowing river system in the San Antonio Natural Areas.

Although MRNA had been previously underutilized, recent outreach efforts have doubled annual attendance. New development in South San Antonio offers the opportunity to promote native plants that are naturally sustainable and low water use that have been thriving in this region for hundreds of years and that grow well at MRNA .

In the very near future MRNA will be the Southwestern terminus of the city-wide Howard W. Peak Greenway Trail System which will exponentially increase exposure to the Chaparral Demonstration Garden and the Butterfly/Pollinator Meadow as the main trail runs through both.


The garden is at the park entrance features native plants that thrive in the upper portion of Eco-Region 6.

The garden was constructed on what had been a field of invasive Bermuda grass in front of the park headquarters. It showcases South Texas trees, shrubs, flowers and groundcover in a sustainable and attractive landscape suitable for commercial or residential gardens. These plants lower outdoor water use and provide habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators and the rest of the wildlife that call this part of Texas home. The path leads from sunny areas into the dappled shade of our native trees and to a vine-covered arbor and picnic area. Use of local stones and boulders give energy and interest to this unique garden habitat as well is informing the visitor to the natural sandstone bedrock of the area.

Generosity, funding, and resources for the garden was provided by the Alamo Area Master Naturalists, The Native Plant Society of San Antonio, The Salsa Squad, The City of San Antonio, and Douglas King Seed, Inc.


The 3.5-acre project will offer, one of the largest, if not the largest dedicated Butterfly/Pollinator Meadow South of North Loop 410. The Meadow will promote utilization of the native plants and plant habitats through education, outreach, and example. It is our goal to encourage and inspire residential and commercial properties to utilize these sustainable, native plants from Northern Eco-Region 6 in their landscape & development designs that foster butterflies and pollinators as well as increase native biodiversity. The main Chaparral trail of Medina River Natural Area will pass through a portion of the Meadow.  Visitors will be able to walk through its beauty.

Generosity, funding, and resources for the Monarch Butterfly/ Pollinator Meadow was provided by the Alamo Area Master Naturalists, The Native Plant Society of San Antonio, The Salsa Squad, The City of San Antonio, and Douglas King Seed, Inc.


MRNA has a rich and dynamic history. Buffalo used to roam in its chaparral flat country. Native Americans thrived here dating back over 10,000 years. Spanish and Mexicans, who introduced vaquero (cowboy) culture to Texas, have been here since 1690 and 1821 respectively. American immigrants revoked their American citizenship, became Mexican citizens and settled here in this rich and beautiful land in 1821.

The Camino Real, which ran from San Antonio to Mexico City, had two of its three crossings in MRNA. This important road transported people, religion, armies, food, vaqueros, cattle, farm animals, etc. Mexican General Santa Ana waited on the Camino Real, on the Southern side of the Medina River on to rest his Yucatecan Indian army drafted conscripts before the Mexican Army attack on the Anglo Mexicans in the Alamo. Living in the tropics, they had little training, were not native Spanish speakers nor were they acclimated to the colder climates. Most wore indigenous tropical clothing and sandals. The Camino Real was also the route taken by hundreds of escaped slaves left the slaveholding Republic of Texas and the Confederate State of Texas. They used the Camino Real as an “Underground Railroad” to freedom as they relied on Mexican-American ranchers and Catholic churches to protect and feed them on their way to freedom of Mexico. Many of their descendants presently live near present-day Piedras Negras across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1855, Piedras Negras was attacked by a force of 130 Anglo Texans lead by a captain of Texas Rangers. They were in search of “fugitive” slaves that had escaped to Mexico.  They were “repelled by a superior force of freed Blacks, Indians and Mexicans who defended the town.”

Anglo Texan slaveholding continued on land that is now MRNA land from initial Anglo immigration to Mexico from the United States till the end of the American Civil War. Much of the land at Medina River Natural Area was part of the slaveholding Applewhite Plantation complex. The adjacent Applewhite Road is named after this slaveholding family.

German and European immigrant communities from the Texas hill country and the Medina River Valley, many had been oppressed and indentured servants in Europe, were staunchly anti-slavery. Many lost their lives defending their beliefs.

After the American Civil War, the land was used by Eastern European and Mexican-American ranchers and farmers to grow grains and raise cattle, goats and sheep in the Chaparral lands and transport people, trade and services across the Medina River on the Camino Real.

The land was heavily stressed due to the introduction of foreign species of animals by the human inhabitants.

The land was purchased by the City of San Antonio for the construction of the Applewhite Reservoir (named for the slaveholding family) which was later rejected twice by the citizens of San Antonio in a citywide referendum. The land was then set aside by the city for a natural area. The reservoir would have been constructed over the Carrizo/Wilcox Water Recharge zone. The Medina River flows West to East along Southern Bexar County and over porous sandstones of the Carrizo/Wilcox Aquifer Recharge Zone. Water from the Medina River conveys water from the limestone Edwards Aquifer and is recharged into the sandstone Carrizo/Wilcox Aquifer.

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