Gumbo Limbo  Bursera simaruba

Fast-growing canopy tree, getting up to 50'+.  The trunk is a striking color, with red, ex-foliating bark.   Gumbo limbo loses its leaves for a brief period of time in Feb-March, with new growth coming quickly.  So, for most of the year, you can relax in the luxurious shade it will provide.

Gumbo limbo is one of the most familiar trees throughout the Caribbean, Keys and Florida region.  It goes by different aliases, such as spirit gum, birch gum, turpentine, or tourist tree (because of its red, peeling skin). 

 

When considering trees for your yard, you might think the gumbo limbo is a mundane choice, since it is fairly common.  But its popularity is well-deserved because it's an excellent tree.  There's always room for a gumbo.

In days past, the resin from the gumbo limbo was used to make turpentine and varnish.  When someone sprained an ankle or pulled a muscle, gumbo limbo resin was applied to the affected area.  I guess you just spread the sap on your skin and stick some leaves to it, twice a day, with meals.  Do not use while operating machinery. 

Cream-colored flowers are not showy.  While there are male and female flower-types, perfect flowers may occur on a single tree. 

 

Fruits are tiny, hard, inedible things that, due to their red color, attract the attention of birds.  It is thought that the birds use the fruits as grinding stones in their crops as an alternative to eating pebbles off the ground.

Below left is a 30' high gumbo limbo in front of our office.  There is a bougainvillea planted at the base, which has been trained to climb up the gumbo.  Feel free to use this idea in your own design.  As I said earlier, there's always room for a gumbo.  It makes a great anchor plant in tropical combinations.

 

 

 

The next time you take the turnpike south through Miami-Dade County to the Keys, and the kids are squirming and fussing in the backseat, you can keep them occupied by seeing who counts the most gumbo limbos along the road.

Cut off a branch, stick it in the ground, and it will grow.  People still make photosynthesizing fences by planting a row of branches.

 

The four trees in the photo at left, now about 10' high, were 6' long branches stuck in the ground 3 years ago.

 

 

Right, 3-gal., about 6' high.  Below, 10-gal., 8'-10' high.  Below right,25-gal., 10'-12' high.

 
 
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Cold Damage
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In the Shadehouse
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Our Nursery
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Last updated:  12/20/2011