Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve

A Natural Cienega Highlighting New Mexico’s Biodiversity

The Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve is a 35-acre nature preserve located on the I-25 frontage road in La Cienega, adjacent to El Rancho de las Golondrinas. This rare natural cienega, or “marsh” in Spanish, hosts a bountiful diversity of plants and wildlife. The Preserve contains three distinct plant communities or zones: riparian/wetland, transitional, and dry uplands.

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About the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve

Photo credit: Stephanie Feldman

In 1993 the Santa Fe Botanical Garden entered into a long-term lease with the trustees of El Rancho de las Golondrinas for the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve. The 35-acre site with its spring-fed pond and remarkable diversity of plants and wildlife quickly became the focus of much of the organization’s educational programming. Dedicated volunteers spent countless hours removing exotic and invasive plants, restoring the habitat through revegetation and ensuring that the pond remain a healthy environment for riparian plants, birds and invertebrates.

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The Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve is named for Leonora Scott Muse Curtin who first came to New Mexico from New York in 1889. She was an avid naturalist, who spoke fluent Spanish, and became interested in plants with medicinal and nutritional values used by Native Americans and early Spanish settlers.  She quickly became fascinated with the healing skills of the curanderas, who used naturally growing herbs to treat the sick and injured. Healing Herbs of the Upper Rio Grande compiles Curtin’s research from time spent in the mountain villages of Northern New Mexico.

The Preserve features three distinct zones: riparian/wetland, transitional, and dry uplands.

The riparian zone features a spring-fed pond and dock, surrounded by enormous cottonwood trees. Explore the aquatic plants, such as the underwater stems of pondweed and floating duckweed. Animals include migratory and nesting birds, muskrats, raccoons and an occasional beaver.

The transitional zone highlights the changes within the short walk from the riparian zone to the dry upland zone. Here you’ll find three-leaf sumac, chamisa, New Mexico privet, and one-seed juniper.

The dry upland zone is a stark contrast to the riparian zone, filled with cacti and juniper trees. You’ll also find yuccas and several species of milkvetch.

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