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Flora Fact: The Sandpaper Tree

Bristly anacua leaves hide fragrant white flowers.

By Karen H. Clary

Anacua is a semi-evergreen tree native to South Texas and Mexico. Anacua (a Spanish word) takes its name from Aztec (Nahuatl) words meaning “paper” and “tree.” Its English name, knockaway, sounds like a seemingly earnest attempt to capture its Spanish pronunciation.

The compact, rounded crown, deep green leaves and reddish-brown to gray-black bark make anacua a popular landscape tree throughout the warmer parts of the state. It grows best on alkaline soils with good drainage. Hardy and drought-tolerant, anacua produces fragrant white clusters of honeybee-attracting flowers in late spring and small, sweet, delicious fruits (hence another name, sugarberry) in the summer.

sandpaper tree

The anacua is a popular ornamental tree in Texas.

Anacua leaves feel like very rough sandpaper to the touch. That’s because the leaf surface sports tiny mineralized disks, which bear short, barbed, bristly hairs. Take a close look with a magnifying glass, and you won’t be disappointed!

The ripe fruit is eaten fresh off the tree and can be used for making preserves. The fruits are eaten by birds, among them red-crowned parrots, green parakeets, clay-colored robins, thrashers, mockingbirds and chachalacas, and also by coyotes. The leaves are browsed by deer.

Anacua is the obligate host for the anacua tortoise beetle, Coptocycla texana. The wood is hard and strong and has traditionally been used for fence posts, tool handles, wheels, spokes and yokes.



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