Viveros de Coyoacán is a combination of a tree nursery and a public park which covers 38.9 hectares. It produces one million seedlings per year, mostly for projects around Mexico City. The area was declared a national park in 1938 and today attracts between 2,500 and 3,000 visitors daily, many of whom come to exercise or feed the area’s very tame squirrels.
While most of the park’s area is a green space, 1.7 hectares are developed and used for a number of federal and local government offices. The park contains a popular plant market, and hosts five exhibitions each year. The first is for azaleas in February, followed by the Rose Exhibition in May, dahlias in August, houseplants in October and nativity scenes in December.
The nursery was founded by Miguel Angel de Quevedo in the early 20th century as a way to provide seedlings for the reforestation of Mexico’s badly damaged forests. The first lands were donated by Quevedo himself with the federal government getting involved, allowing for the planting of 140,000 trees between 1913 and 1914 alone.
Quevedo made his fortune constructing a number of public and privates buildings in Mexico City and Veracruz, but he also saw the environmental damage and the consequences that these projects caused. In Quevedo’s time, there were neither governmental nor private conservation agencies, nor were there laws regulating the use of forests. By the early 20th century massive deforestation was causing problems such as desertification, erosion, flooding from unimpeded runoff and others. In 1904 Miguel Angel de Quevedo founded the Junta Central de Bosques y Arbolados (Central Committee of Forests and Tree Areas), which was the first environmental protection institution in Mexico. Quevedo’s major environmental project, however, was to create a system to produce and plant trees to reforest much of Mexico City’s damaged landscape. Quevedo’s plan was to produce enough trees to form a 10-kilometre ring of forests around the city to restore the landscape, regulate surface water flow and provide other benefits. Seven years after its creation, the Viveros was the centrepiece of a system of nurseries which produced 2.5 million trees in the very early 20th century and allowed 140,000 trees to be planted from between July 1913 to February 1914 alone. The first hectare of Viveros was donated by Quevedo in 1901. Originally the area had desert type plants but Quevedo planted it with trees, and began a nursery. The primary function of the area from its conception has been that of a tree nursery, to grow and acclimate seedlings to be planted in reforestation projects. It was the first of its kind in Mexico and the first large-scale tree nursery in Latin America. Quevedo also established here the Escuela Forestal (Forestry School) in 1934. This school became the Department of Forestry under the Secretariat of Agriculture. The area was declared a national park in 1938, and opened to the public to allow it to see the nursery work and to provide recreational activities. The importance of the park has grown, especially since the 1970s, when schools began to organise classes there. In the 1980s, Viveros began to offer exhibitions in floriculture as well as various sporting activities, especially jogging with the installation of tracks. By 1995, the park was daily clocking about 1000 visitors who were coming just to exercise. By the 2000s, the number of visitors had grown to between 2,500 and 3,000, which has led to some problems, mostly with rodents.
The overpopulation of squirrels and a large rat population have become problems for the park, provoked both by the feeding and by the fact that there are almost no predators. Only four wild falcons are known to live in the area. In 2005 city authorities estimated that there were about 10,000 rats in the park.
The feeding of squirrels is a popular pastime in the park, which has led to their overpopulation and damaging plants. The squirrels cause damage to mature trees and more so to the young plants in the seed beds, as they scurry between them looking for a place to hide. To combat this problem, feeding is not permitted in the nursery areas but is still allowed in other parts of the park. The rats in the park are attracted and sustained by food brought into the park by people, either for themselves or for the squirrels. Although the city does not consider them to be a health threat and the rats do not leave the park and invade neighbouring homes, a programme for their extermination was put into place because the concentration was considered to be the highest in the city. Extermination efforts mostly have consisted of placing environmentally friendly poisoned bait in areas where the rats congregate.