GARDEN VIEW: Anacuas: A history lesson

If you’ve noticed some trees around town that look like they’re covered in snow, those are anauca trees. They are putting on an especially big show right now and I wanted to share some of their history gathered by Cameron County Master Gardener, Lori Murray.

Quite a few years ago, when I was in the throes of becoming a master gardener, I was quite taken by the history of the anacua tree I found at one of our fall plant sales. I invested in it, brought it home, and planted it in my front yard only to then be taken by something else and basically leaving it to its own devices save for what the sprinkler system could provide. After struggling along for five or six years, the little four foot tree suddenly claimed my attention again this past spring with an incredible surge of growth and I remembered what had interested me so much initially. This tree is a significant piece of Texas history. The anacua is native to South Texas and Northern Mexico and was very useful to those who settled in our area. The dense wood was excellent for making wheel spokes, axles, yokes, and tool handles. The small sweet berries made a tasty jelly, and the stiff, rough leaves could actually be used to sand wood. In fact, Native Americans had used it to smooth arrow shafts. The tree was even commonly known as the Sandpaper Tree or the Sugarberry, Manzanita, or Knackaway. Because of its aversion to freezing temperatures, the anacua doesn’t grow north of the San Antonio area, but even in that area and those somewhat south a freeze may cause the tree to lose its leaves but it will rebound quickly with very little damage. The anacua tree is incredibly tolerant in terms of its needs for sun and soil. It prefers full sun and rich alkaline loam, but it will tolerate part shade and grow in neutral to slightly acidic sandy or clay soil.

No wonder it does well here! Many of the trees are multi-trunked, especially in the wild, a result of the suckers that grow into saplings and a source of great visual interest.

A full grown tree will range from 20 – 40 feet tall and will provide abundant shade. The tree attracts birds because it keeps its leaves pretty much all year unless it freezes, and its denseness provides safety for nesting. In March and April the tree is at its best. First it will be covered with tiny fragrant white blossoms that attract butterflies hungry for their nectar. Then, over the next several weeks there are clusters of edible reddish brown berries that will bring in birds. The only drawback is that, like wild olives, the berries will drop from the tree and make a mess, so be sure to avoid planting it near a driveway or sidewalk.

One of the sources called the anacua an “unsung hero of the South Texas landscape” and it surely is. It provides cooling shade, puts on a beautiful spring display, draws birds and butterflies, and is highly drought tolerant once established (after two years). It asks little except strong sunlight, good drainage, and a gentle hand with the pruners.

Note: An article from Victoria County gardeners noted that large stands of anacua trees could be seen at Goliad State Park (1/2 mile south of Goliad on Highway 183) and suggested a spring visit to see the trees at their best.

There is also a feature article on the heritage anacua tree at the Bexar County Courthouse that you can find easily online by googling anacua tree.

SOURCES: https://nativeplantproject; https://aggiehorticulture. tamu. edu; https://www.vcmga.org2008 Ashley Gregory is the Horticulturalist for Hidalgo County with Texas A& M AgriLife Extension Service. She can be reached at the Hidalgo County Extension Office at (956) 383-1026 or by email at ahgregory@ag.tamu.edu.