Monika Maeckle

By 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

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

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...