Heritage Tree: The Anaqua at the Bexar County Courthouse

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Monika MaeckleBy Monika Maeckle

The decades-old Anaqua tree gracing the south lawn of the Bexar County Courthouse reaches 45 feet skyward and casts a grand shade.  Jurors on lunch break seek respite under its dense 39-foot canopy.

According to San Antonio City Forester Michael Nentwich, this Anaqua, perched gracefully on Nueva Street at Main, likely sprouted as a "volunteer," planted by a bird.   Birds and other wildlife cherish the Anaqua's red berries, which succeed its lovely white flowers in a season of multiple blooms each year. Anaquas thrive in limestone soils and their rough, tactile leaves suggest the texture of medium grit sandpaper.   Bees can't resist Anaqua flower pollen.

The Anaqua Tree at the Bexar County House

The Anaqua Tree at the Bexar County Courthouse, photo by Carolina Canizales.

This is Nentwich's favorite San Antonio tree.   He respects its tenacity and its multi trunk form.  At thigh-height , this Anaqua forms a muscular, sinewy trunk that boasts a nine-foot, four-inch girth. Anaqua trees generally don't live more than 75 years and can reach a medium height of 75 feet.  This middle-aged example, somewhere around 40 years old, has likely been pampered by Courthouse maintenance staff and with appreciative gazes from passers-by.   It reciprocates our fond attention with a deep, cooling shade, lowering ambient temperatures by as much as 12 degrees in our brutal summers.

The name Anaqua finds its roots in Anachuite, a Mexican name for this and related species. The word derives from the words for paper and tree in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, and likely referencing its scaly, peeling bark.

Anaqua Tree at Bexar County Courthouse

Anaqua Tree at Bexar County Courthouse, graphic by Nicolas Rivard


Anaqua Tree at the Bexar County Courthouse

Species: Ehretia anacua

Height:  45 feet

Canopy:  39 feet

Diameter at breast height:  2 feet, 11.5 inches

Circumference:  9 feet, 4 inches

Age:  Probably  30 - 50 years

Location:  Nueva Street between South Main and Dwyer, on the south lawn of the Bexar County Courthouse

Get there by bus:  Take the Via Yellow Route bus, which stops right next to the courthouse. Buses run every 15 to 20 minutes.

Also known as:   Anacua, Knockaway (a gross mispronunciation of the Spanish "anacua"), and "Sandpaper Tree" because of the scratchy texture of its leaves.

NOTES:  Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is a standard of measuring tree diameter at four-and-a-half feet off the ground.  Regarding the age of trees, arborists and foresters are reluctant to cite them.   The only accurate way to determine a tree's age is with an increment boring test, whereby a hollow drill bit is bored into the tree trunk.  Very traumatic for the tree.  Since soil and water availability determine tree growth, some trees grow huge in several decades while others live  a century and can be much smaller.  The tree's temperament is also a factor.

In short, when it comes to determining tree ages, size doesn't matter.    We will cite educated guesses by certified arborists for the ages of featured trees, unless scientific or historical data are available.

Have a favorite heritage tree?   Send us a photo, a story and we'll consider it for inclusion to hello@rivardreport.com.

More on San Antonio's trees:  San Antonio's Initiative to Plant One Million Trees by 2020

Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch, and covers nature in the urban environment for this website.  You can reach her at monika@therivardreport.com.

One thought on “Heritage Tree: The Anaqua at the Bexar County Courthouse

  1. Thank you for noticing the anaqua tree. There are other great examples of the anaqua tree at the municipal auditorium grounds, in the small riverside park at the ends of King William St. that is adjacent to the riverwalk, at the Alamo Colleges headquarters park downtown, close to the intersection of Johnson and Main. There is even a huge an aqua tree in front of my great grandmother’s former home at 2525 W. Martin. The wonderful thing about an aqua trees is that once you learn to spot them, you find them everywhere.

    The sandpaper tree volunteers a lot of places and is worth saving if you have a lot of open space and want a drought sturdy native tree. It’s also a good nursery tree for beginners, like me, to plant intentionally – but wait till fall! In addition to the memorable “sandpaper” feel of the leaves, the springtime sight of a blooming anaqua tree will grab your attention. That deeply crevassed bark, which looks almost as fractured as a dry lake bed, is another characteristic. It’s quite a handsome tree, in its own rugged flamboyant south Texas way.

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