The amazing, the incredible
Stately anaqua with their unique trunk and bark structure like these at Goliad State Park can create a definite focal lpoint when used in your landscape.
Its durability and shade make it the perfect tree for South Texas

March 13, 2008

by Beth Ellis, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Do you want to grow a respectable piece of Texas history in your yard that draws birds and butterflies, gives nice shade in the hot summertime, and looks great year-round to boot?  Then the anaqua is the tree for you!

A Tree with History

Statuesque and distinctive, the anaqua (Ehretia anacua) is truly one of the unsung heroes of the South Texas landscape.  A quick look through old accounts from the early days of Texas will reveal a number of colorful common names for this venerable tree – “Nockaway”, “Knackaway”, “Manzanita”, “Sandpaper Tree”, and “Sugarberry” among them.  Old time Texans found the hard, dense wood handy for making tool handles, wheel spokes, axles and yokes. The small sweet berries were good for making jelly, and the stiff, rough leaves were useful for sanding wood.  Rumor has it that Native Americans living in the vicinity even used the leaves to smooth their arrow shafts.
Careful pruning early in life will enhance the mature appearance of this young anaqua tree.
Growing Conditions

The anaqua is considered to be native to South Texas and Northern Mexico.  A dislike of freezing temperatures generally limits the northern boundary of this species to the San Antonio area.  In the Victoria area the stiff, sandpaper-like leaves may turn brown and drop after a hard freeze, but the trees are generally able to rebound quickly with little ill effect.

Anaquas are not particularly choosy when it comes to growing conditions.  They prefer full sun but can tolerate part shade.  Loamy soil is the preferred medium, but this species is quite tolerant of sandy and clay soils. Anaquas prefer a mildly alkaline environment but are tolerant of neutral to slightly acidic soils. Once established in a location that is not too shady, the only demand this versatile tree makes on the homeowner is good drainage.
The multiple trunks in this mature anaqua tree creates structural distinctiveness.
Anaquas can be propagated from seeds, softwood cuttings from the current year’s growth, or most easily by transplanting root suckers.   Frequent watering is required for the first couple of years to ensure establishment, but afterwards the trees become quite drought tolerant and do not require fertilizing.
Growth Patterns

In some ways, anaqua trees are sort of like people.  While very young they grow fairly quickly, and then they – like humans – sometimes experience what can best be described as an awkward adolescence.  With kids it’s hormones and acne; with anaquas it’s a tendency toward shrubby growth habit and multiple root sucker production.  Forbearance on our part helps our kids get through this “interesting” phase in their lives and on toward graceful maturity, while cautious and well considered pruning does the same thing for our young anaqua trees.
The striking appearance of many mature anaqua trees is reflective of the multiple suckers (actually saplings) that often grow up from the anaqua root system.   Close proximity often causes the saplings to merge, creating the unique vertically rippled trunks found in many mature trees.  Some anaquas may develop separate trunks that appear to spring from a single base as a result of this interesting growth habit. The end result in either case is a distinctively beautiful mature tree. Pruning of young trees to remove or direct growth of multiple saplings should be done carefully and with forethought to preserve and enhance the inherent structural qualities of the mature tree.

Ornamental Qualities

Anaqua trees generally range from 20 to 40 forty feet, with the occasional specimen ranging as tall as 50 feet.  Dense, dark green canopies produce not only abundant shade for humans during our long hot summers, but also excellent nesting and refuge areas for backyard songbirds.  Homeowners may wish to take advantage of the dense shade by creating cool seating areas underneath the trees for use during warm months, or they may prefer to landscape with shade tolerant ground covers. The attractiveness of these trees for both humans and songbirds extends through the winter months since anaquas have a tendency to hang on to most of their leaves in all but freezing weather. 

March and April heralds the most beautiful time of the year for the anaqua.  The show begins with an incredible display of tiny white blossoms that virtually cover the canopy of each tree.  The densely packed blossoms are so numerous they give the trees a snowball-like appearance.  In addition to their beauty, the blooms are sweet and intensely fragrant and can perfume entire neighborhoods.   Butterflies searching for nectar are drawn to the blossoms in droves, adding to the overall beauty.  For several weeks after flowering the trees produce handsome clusters of edible reddish-yellow berries that are excellent for attracting songbirds and other wildlife.  Fruit drop provides a potential drawback for some homeowners, a situation that is easily remedied by locating trees away from sidewalks or driveways. Anaquas will occasionally experience a repeat bloom in the fall after good rainfall.

A Lot of Tree with Little Care

Historical; aesthetically beautiful in form, flower and fruit; attractive to birds, butterflies and other wildlife; highly drought tolerant when established - the anaqua is truly one of the unsung heroes of the South Texas landscape.  It makes little demand of homeowners other than good drainage, good sunlight, and cautious pruning.  So consider treating your yard to a new anaqua or shaping up the ones you already have – with minimal care you, too, can have show-stopping trees that will take center stage in your landscape!



For more information on anaqua trees, check out the following sources:

-Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Southwest, by Robert A. Vines (Texas Press)


- -- Anacua




*To see large stands of anaqua trees, take a short trip to Goliad State Park. 
*Time your visit when the anaquas are blooming for an extra special sensory treat! *Goliad State Park is located 1/2 mile south of Goliad on Highway 183.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas Cooperative Extension-Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, Texas 77901; or, or comment on this column at