McALLEN — McAllen Parks & Recreation Department replaced 15 oak trees downtown with coma trees, which serve as a native and non-invasive alternative.

According to Interim McAllen Parks & Recreation Department Director Denny Meline, the oak trees were removed June 1 because they grew too big for the space they had been planted in and their roots were growing up rather than into the soil.

The overgrowth damaged the foundation of the city’s downtown sidewalks and brick pavers.

A more reasonable alternative for the Rio Grande Valley was a coma tree, scientifically known as the Sideroxylon celastrinum.

The coma tree, also referred to as the saffron plum, is native to the region and is drought tolerant, which is perfect for the McAllen climate, Meline said.

Comas have little leaves, spiny branchlets and a small treelike form.

“They do have a big canopy,” Xochitl Mora, director of the McAllen office of communications, said. “So once they’re mature they will provide the shade that other big trees will provide.”

The coma’s leaves last for multiple seasons, making it effectively evergreen. The native tree also emits a sweet fragrance which attracts swarms of butterflies.

McAllen has replaced trees along Main Street, switching from oaks to coma trees. (Courtesy photo)

“It was really important to keep the trees along Main Street to not only give shade and character to the downtown area, but also because of the incredible environmental positive impact trees provide,” McAllen City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez stated in a news release June 28. “This is keeping with McAllen’s Tree City U.S.A. designation.”

There were 15 oak trees removed and 15 coma trees planted along Main Street to fulfill requirements for the Tree City U.S.A. designation that the city of McAllen recently received through its Keep McAllen Beautiful committee in 2020.

This is not the city’s first time removing trees for the sake of invasive species. McAllen also removed trees at the McAllen Convention Center last year for the same reason.

“We’re trying to do our part and make McAllen more native when it comes to planting trees around the city, and that’s a long term goal for us — to provide more native species of plants here in the city of McAllen,” Meline said.

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