Gumbo-limbo

Bursera simaruba
Family: Burseraceae

Natural History

Gumbo-limbo is a tropical tree that is native to the southeastern United States. It adapts to a variety of habitats, from dry to moist, and is fairly salt-tolerant. It is also considered one of the most wind-tolerant trees in south Florida and is recommended as a good, hurricane-resistant species.

Gumbo-limbo is planted for shade and ornamental use on backyard patios, or along streets and highways. It readily sprouts from branches stuck into the ground and is sometimes used to plant natural, living fences.

The gummy, turpentine-scented resin has been used in the West Indies for making glue, varnish, liniments, and as a coating for canoes. The aromatic sap is also used as a treatment for gout, while the leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea. The light, soft, spongy wood is used for fence posts that have been known to take root in the ground and grow! Other small wood products such as matchsticks, toothpicks, charcoal, boxes, crates, and interior trim have also been made from gumbo-limbo.

Some birds, including mockingbirds and vireos, regularly consume the deep red fruits of gumbo-limbo during the summer and fall months.

Gumbo-limbo ranges from Cape Canaveral to southern Florida, including the Keys. It is also native to the West Indies, tropical Mexico, Guatemala, and northern South America.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Gumbo-limbo is a large, tardily deciduous tree that grows from 50' to 60' tall with stout, massive branches and a spreading, rounded crown.
Leaves: The leaves are alternately arranged, odd pinnately compound with 3 to 9 (mostly 5 to 7) leaflets that are 2" to 3" long by 1" to 2" wide. The oblong to ovate leaves have leathery, bright green upper surfaces and are paler underneath. Leaflets have unequal bases and long, tapering leaf tips. The leaf margins are entire or slightly wavy.
Fruit: The fruit is a dark red, football-shaped drupe, about 1/3" long. It is leathery with 3 angled sides that split along the suture lines at maturity to release a triangular seed.
Bark: The bark is light reddish-brown, thin, papery, and scaly like yellow birch. It has a smooth, oily look and peels off in sheets to reveal a greenish-brown layer beneath.
Habitat: Gumbo-limbo grows best in sandy, well-drained soils. It is found in tidewater areas, coastal hammocks, and mixed forests.

 

Images

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Bark

Fruits

 

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