Gumbo limbo tree leaves



Common names

  • Chaca
  • Copperwood
  • Gumbo-Limbo
  • Tourist Tree
  • Turpentine Tree
  • West Indian Birch

Gumbo limbo (scientific name Bursera simaruba) is the most common species in the Bursera genus. This genus consists of over 100 different plants that grow in the tropical areas of the Americas.

Gumbo limbo can be found in the USA in the state of Florida, south of the east-west line from Pinellas County to Brevard County. It is common in all islands of the Caribbean, including the Bahamas. It can be found in Central America south of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, all the way to the Northern part of Brazil, in countries like Panama, Columbia, Venezuela and the Guyana.

It is a sizeable tree that can reach an impressive height of 30 m. Gumbo limbo has a distinctive red bark that easily comes off in flakes thin like paper. In Florida, it is even a tourist attraction because of the strange color of the bark. It can grow extremely large, gumbo limbo often has a diameter greater than 1 m even at 1.5 m above ground level. Leaves are grouped in the form of a spiral and have a pinnate arrangement consisting of up to 11 leaflets. Leaflets are ovate in shape, with a maximum length of 10 cm and a thickness of 5 cm.

Parts used



The red bark of gumbo-limbo is frequently used in Belize, especially to treat skin conditions. It is applied on the skin against rashes, insect stings, measles, skin sores or excessive sunburn. A decoction prepared from the bark is ingested in order to cure a wide range of diseases like internal pain, cold, flu, fever and infections. It is also believed to detoxify the blood. The beverage is prepared by boiling a large piece of bark 5 x 30 cm in water for about 10 minutes, then consuming it like a tea.

The gumbo limbo is used in various ways by the Maya tribes of Central America. The Zinacanteco use gumbo limbo to treat dysentery and to prevent loose teeth from falling off. Many Mayans burn it as incense, but not the Tzotzil tribesmen. It has a special significance to the Chortí, who plant a gumbo limbo before leaving on the ritual trip to Esquipulas, as some kind of symbolic cross. The tree is planted behind the altar, in the same position where a normal cross would be found. The Huastec Mayans use gumbo limbo to cure stomach pain, head pain, burns, fever and nose bleeding. They also believe that the gumbo limbo tree predicts rain by blossoming. They don’t burn Bursera simaruba as incense but it must be noted that these people live in the San Luis Potosí area, far away from the Tzotzil and Chortí natives.

The gumbo-limbo tree has numerous medical uses, according to tribal practitioners. It is prized as an energizer and used to treat gonorrhea, syphilis, arthritis, rheumatism, back pain, kidney problems, sweat induction, stomach bleeding, diarrhea, bruises, leucorrhea, skin irritations, intestinal ailments, snakebites, wounds, sore throats, asthma and high blood pressure. It is also used in weight loss cures and as a blood tonic for pregnant women. The tree’s sap is an antidote for poison ivy and poison wood intoxication. The resin is the main ingredient in the manufacture of incense but also as a cure for open wounds, ulcers and gastritis. It can be applied on the skin as a crude remedy for strained muscles or pulled ankles. In some areas, the resin is also believed to be good against gout.

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A medicinal tea can be prepared from the leaves of gumbo limbo and modern tests have found hexane extracts in it, which are proven to have anti-inflammatory properties after testing on animals. The bark is also a local counter for Metopium toxiferum. This is a tropical plant that grows in the same areas as gumbo-limbo and causes very serious and painful skin irritation, just like its relative the poison ivy. The arils might have a good potential as well. They are eaten in high quantities by some birds, which means they must have a significant amount of lipids and perhaps other edible compounds as well. One tree produces a massive amount of fruits, more than 15000, but the seeds are very small and can’t be harvested in any economic way. As a result, human harvesting is basically impossible and any interesting compounds found in the seeds will have to be synthetically produced.

In its native area, the gumbo limbo is a popular choice as a living fence plant. It has other industrial uses as well, for example in Haiti where the trunk is the material from which drums are produced. In the Caribbean, the gumbo-limbo resin is an ingredient in incense, glue and varnish and also used to repel water. The smell of the resin resembles turpentine and it has specific names in the West Indies, like cachibou, gomart or chibou. Fruits can be fed to birds, while the wood is easy to carve because it’s not a hard essence.

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The tree is vigorous and grows very fast. Gumbo limbo is a great decorative plant because of its beautiful red exfoliating bark, especially in coastal locations since it readily tolerates salt and poor chalky soils. It requires almost no maintenance, which also makes it popular as a street tree. When planted on the streets, it provides shade during the summer.

Habitat and cultivation

Gumbo limbo requires soils with adequate drainage but otherwise is quite tolerant and can grow in both shade and full sun. It will thrive on fertile soil but it can adapt and survive on a wide range of poor ones like white sands, moderate salty ground or alkaline soils. It requires almost no care after it becomes established, although it’s good to sometimes remove the lower branches if they get too close to the ground.

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Gumbo limbo is a sizeable tree that needs enough space to develop. It is best suited as a solitary tree on a property or as a street one, if provided with a big enough area. Street trees require some maintenance because the lower branches tend to stay close to the ground, so it has to be trained and pruned. Ideally, the lowest branch shouldn’t be closer than 15 feet to the ground for a street tree. Solitary specimens can be allowed to develop at will and will have a spectacular bark even without any pruning at all.

The seeds of gumbo limbo germinate easily and can be used for propagation as long as they are fresh. However, gumbo limbo is usually propagated using cuttings. Even large size ones, with a diameter of 12 in or more, can be put in the ground because they will eventually grow into a new full-size tree. If you choose this method, you’ll have to prune the tree with care because numerous unwanted sprouts will emerge along the main trunk. A problem of using cuttings is that the branches of the new tree will have a weak structure and can even break and fall in time. To avoid this, you can cut some of the main branches in order to space the remaining ones and force them to become stronger. Overall, it is probably a better idea to propagate the tree using seeds, or at least smaller cuttings.

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Bradenton’s, and the nation’s, largest gumbo limbo tree torn down | Bradenton Herald


How do you remove the nation’s largest gumbo limbo tree, its limbs riddled with cracks from Hurricane Irma’s winds, its base weakened from a fungal disease and its last years having been held together by wires?

Carefully, very carefully.

After thorough review of the damage brought by the September hurricane, officials at De Soto National Memorial announced that two of its gumbo limbo trees would have to be taken down to protect visitors. This included the estimated 50,000-pound American Forests Champion Tree, a designation given to the largest of its species in the U.S. that is said to be 80 years old.

The day of, Monday morning, started off fog-filled and dreary. To the park’s superintendent Nathan Souder, it was fitting.

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“I was talking with the staff and we just felt it was somewhat representative of our moods,” he said, watching as crews from Biological Tree Services took the tree apart in small chunks.

“We all care about this tree,” he said. “None of us want to take it down.”

Ed Bingle — a “champion tree-climber,” said his boss Tammy Kovar — situated himself on a freshly cut branch, trying to figure out his next move. The next piece he would cut was connected by a wire to the other side of the tree; one wrong move and either side of the thick arms could collapse, taking him with it. It was a process to relieve the stems of the pressure from the wire and supporting the larger pieces with a Bobcat bulldozer.

Aside from Irma causing the tree to twist and crack, the tree was already doomed. A nasty case of ganoderma butt rot, which is also seen in palm trees, was caused by the Ganoderma zonatum fungus. The disease makes the base of the tree hollow out, effectively weakening its structure, and is fatal for the tree.

Some of the larger pieces will turn into mulch, Bingle said. But the champion tree’s legacy won’t be just to keep in soil moisture.

By midday, 100 small branches were treated with a root growth hormone called Hormodin, stuck in dirt and wrapped in a translucent bag to be given out to anyone that wants a tree of their own. The Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources department and volunteers will be planting about 60 of the branches in the southern portion of the Robinson Preserve expansion.

Gumbo limbo branches don’t always need hormones to grow, as they’re naturally prone to regrowth. According to the Lee County IFAS extension, a tree can grow from a seed to a 6-foot to 8-foot tree in 18 months.

“We’re just going to accelerate that process so no one goes home with a dud,” Kovar said.

Gumbo limbos have striking bark that peels off in flakes, exposing a reddish-copper color. It also attracts the dingy purplewing, or Eunica monima, which is a purple-gray butterfly.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who snags a free (and disease-free) branch at the park between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday, Kovar has two pieces of advice: Put it in a place that has a lot of sun and a lot of space. This 80-year-old tree grew 45 feet tall and had a 16-foot trunk.

“And away from your house, right?” Bingle said.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse

Gumbo Limbo Info – How To Grow Gumbo Limbo Trees

Gumbo limbo trees are big, very fast growing, and interestingly shaped natives of southern Florida. These trees are popular in hot climates as specimen trees, and especially for lining streets and sidewalks in urban settings. Keep reading to learn more gumbo limbo info, including gumbo limbo care and how to grow gumbo limbo trees.

Gumbo Limbo Info

What is a gumbo limbo tree? Gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) is an especially popular species of the genus Bursera. The tree is native to southern Florida and ranges throughout the Caribbean and South and Central America. It grows extremely fast – in the course of 18 months it can go from a seed to a tree reaching 6 to 8 feet in height (1.8-2.4 m.). Trees tend to reach 25 to 50 feet (7.5-15 m.) tall at maturity, and they are sometimes wider than they are tall.

The trunk tends to split into several branches close to the ground. The branches grow in a curved, contorted pattern that give the tree an open and interesting shape. The bark is brownish gray and peels to reveal attractive and distinctive red underneath. In fact, it is this peeling back that has earned it the nickname of “tourist tree” for the resemblance of sunburned skin that tourists often get when visiting this area.

The tree is technically deciduous, but in Florida it loses its green, oblong leaves at almost the same time it grows new ones, so it is practically never bare. In the tropics, it loses its leaves completely during the dry season.

Gumbo Limbo Care

Gumbo limbo trees are tough and low maintenance. They are drought tolerant and stand up well to salt. The smaller branches may be lost to high winds, but the trunks will survive and regrow after hurricanes.

They are hardy in USDA zones 10b through 11. If left unpruned, the lowest branches may droop nearly down to the ground. Gumbo limbo trees are a good choice for urban settings along roadways, but they do have a tendency to get big (especially in breadth). They are also excellent specimen trees.

Bursera simaruba: Gumbo Limbo1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2


This large semi-evergreen tree, with an open, irregular to rounded crown, may reach 50 feet in height with an equal or wider spread but is usually seen smaller (25 to 40 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide) in landscape plantings. The trunk and branches are thick and are covered with resinous, smooth, peeling coppery bark with an attractive, shiny, freshly varnished appearance. The tree typically develops from two to four large-diameter limbs originating close to the ground. A native of south Florida and the tropical offshore islands, the soft, light weight and easily carved wood of gumbo limbo was used for making carousel horses before the advent of molded plastics.

Figure 1.

Full Form – Bursera simaruba: gumbo limbo



General Information

Scientific name: Bursera simaruba

Pronunciation: ber-SER-uh sim-uh-ROO-buh

Common name(s): gumbo limbo

Family: Burseraceae

USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to Florida, the West Indies, Central America, and northern portions of South America

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native

Figure 2.



Height: 25 to 50 feet

Spread: 25 to 50 feet

Crown uniformity: irregular

Crown shape: round

Crown density: open

Growth rate: moderate

Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Figure 3)

Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound; made up of 3-9 leaflets

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: ovate to oblong

Leaf venation: brachidodrome, pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: semi-evergreen

Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches; leaflets are 2 to 4 ½ inches

Leaf color: shiny and green on top, paler green underneath

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3.

Leaf – Bursera simaruba: gumbo limbo




Flower color: pale green or white

Flower characteristics: not showy; emerges in clusters on 2-6” long panicles

Flowering: spring

Figure 4.

Flower – Bursera simaruba: gumbo limbo




Fruit shape: elliptic

Fruit length: ½ inch

Fruit covering: fleshy; drupe-like capsule

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem; slightly 3-angled

Fruiting: late spring to early summer, matures the following year

Figure 5.

Fruit – Bursera simaruba: gumbo limbo



Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; very showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns

Bark: reddish orange, orange brown, gray, or silver; smooth; peels off in thin layers or curly strips to reveal olive green beneath; excretes a gray resin when cut, and has a similar aroma to turpentine

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green, brown, reddish

Current year twig thickness: medium, thick

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 6.

Bark – Bursera simaruba: gumbo limbo


Gitta Hasing, UF/IFAS


Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; alkaline; well-drained

Drought tolerance: high

Aerosol salt tolerance: high


Roots: can form large surface roots

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: yes

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

Although growth rate is rapid and wood is soft, gumbo limbo trees have great resistance to strong winds, drought, and neglect. Drought avoidance is accomplished by leaf drop, and growth is often best in drier locations not receiving irrigation. The inconspicuous flowers are followed by red, three-sided berries that split into three sections at maturity to reveal a 1/4-inch triangular red seed. The fruit takes a year to ripen and matures in early summer.

Gumbo limbo grows in full sun or partial shade on a wide range of well drained soils. Tolerant of moderate amounts of salt spray, gumbo limbo adapts to alkaline or poor, deep white sands but will also grow quickly on more fertile soil. Once established, gumbo limbo requires little attention other than occasional pruning to remove lower branches that may droop close to the ground.

Gumbo limbo is ideal for a freestanding specimen on a large property or as a street tree, but does need room to grow. Lower branches will grow close to the ground, so street trees will have to be trained early for proper development. Locate the lowest permanent branch about 15 feet off the ground to provide enough clearance for a street tree planting. Specimen trees are often grown with branches beginning much closer to the ground, providing a beautiful specimen plant with wonderful bark.

Propagation is by seed, which germinates readily if fresh, but most often, gumbo limbo is propagated by cuttings of any size twig or branch. Huge truncheons (up to 12 inches in diameter) are planted in the ground where they sprout and grow into a tree. Be sure to properly prune and train a tree grown in this fashion, since many sprouts often develop along the trunk after planting. A tree left to grow in this manner usually develops weak branches, which may fall from the tree as it grows older. Space major branches out along the main trunk to create a strong tree. It is probably best to plant seed-grown trees or those propagated from smaller, more traditionally sized cuttings.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern. Occasionally caterpillars will chew the leaves, but rarely damage enough to warrant control.



This document is ENH263, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, Gainesville, FL 32611; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center (GCREC), Wimauma, FL 33598; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county’s UF/IFAS Extension office.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.

Fairchild’s tropical garden column: The humble gumbo limbo | Miami Herald

A mature gumbo limbo tree. Kenneth Setzer Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

It’s easy to dismiss that which is all around us, but ask anyone from outside South Florida what a gumbo limbo is, and chances are they’ll think it’s a Cajun soup. Gumbo limbo, though a common tree in most South Florida neighborhoods, is one of the most important members of our hammock ecosystem, and one with an interesting tale to tell.

Gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) belongs to a family of mostly tropical trees, with gumbo limbo found in northern South America, the Caribbean and in its northernmost range here in Southeast Florida. It can grow to about 50 feet or more. Stocky, older individuals develop a massive trunk several feet in diameter that swells after lots of rain, three or four thick lower limbs, and a canopy nearly as wide as the tree is tall.

Gumbo limbos are semi-evergreen, regenerating leaves seasonally or during drought conditions. It may seem odd to see a bare tree in South Florida, but this is normal for the gumbo limbo in late fall or spring, and the leaf shedding is usually not complete.

The gumbo limbo’s flowers grow abundantly along panicles, but are small, greenish and inconspicuous. Flowers may appear all year, and though not necessarily attractive to us, bees rely on them as an important food source. Their fruit, however, is much more showy, and equally important for wildlife. The small red berries appear in clusters and are an important food for many birds including winter migrants, not to mention squirrels. Gumbo limbo is also a larval host plant for dingy purplewing (Eunica monima) butterflies.

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Gumbo limbo bark is my favorite aspect of the tree. It’s a coppery or deep red, and looks polished, glossy, like it’s been varnished. It peels off like sheets of the mineral mica, revealing the glabrous, grayish green bark beneath. Peeling pieces of bark catch the raking afternoon light in fall and winter, and absolutely light up.

Gumbo limbo wood is really quite soft. It’s said to have been carved to make carousel horses when such things were actually crafted from wood. I have carved it, and it can be unreliable in consistency and too soft to hold details without breaking. It is an attractive creamy pale white wood with very little grain.

Gumbo limbo propagation is best done by seed. In parts of the Caribbean, “living fences” are sometimes made by planting limbs of gumbo limbo in rows directly into the soil, since cuttings root very easily and grow quickly. I once had a small limb placed on my concrete patio in complete shade, and it sprouted without soil or water!

Some researchers claim that trees grown from seed survive hurricane winds more often than those grown from cuttings.

Gumbo limbo obviously thrives in our poor, alkaline soil. While it won’t tolerate long-term saltwater inundation, it does have a moderate tolerance to salt air, so it makes a great coastal tree. Once established, it requires no irrigation at all, nor additional nutrition. It’s a good candidate for habitat restoration because it is fast growing (though non-invasive) and can tolerate most soil types.

The gumbo limbo belongs to the Burseraceae family, aka the torchwood or frankincense family — one with loads of ethnobotanical, medicinal and cultural uses. I won’t go into the medicinal practices, but will say that different parts of these trees — resin, sap, leaves, bark, fruit, wood and their various extracts —have been used to treat inflammation, parasites, digestive issues and just about everything else. Native Americans and Caribbeans have used the sticky gumbo limbo bark resin as bird lime, a sort of sticky trap to capture birds. The resin has also been employed in varnishes and glue.

The family Burseraceae has a long history, indeed prehistory, involving its resin and human cultures. It’s been valued as incense by pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican cultures for centuries.

Though immune to most pests, the gumbo limbo was recently a favorite of the rugose spiraling whitefly (Aleurodicus rugioperculatus). The whitefly’s honeydew excretion causes the sooty black mold that stains sidewalks, patios, cars and anything under the affected trees. Natural predators seem to have reduced this whitefly, though it can still be found feeding from gumbo limbo, so avoid planting the tree near pools, driveways or patios that may suffer from staining.

Kenneth Setzer is writer and editor at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

How to Care for a Gumbo Limbo

Caring For a Gumbo Limbo Tree

Gumbo Limbo trees are a soft wood tropical climate tree native to Southern Florida and the Caribbean. They exist only in temperate tropical climates and do not usually grow further north than the Southern Tampa bay region of Florida. The prolific trees can grow either from a seed or by directly planting a branch of the tree into the ground. Here are some guidelines for planting a Gumbo Limbo from a clipping or branch:

  1. Select the perfect spot! Gumbo Limbos grow fast and large so pick a spot at least 15-20 feet away from a structure or public walkways or roads.
  2. They love the sun! Gumbo Limbos prefer direct sunlight or can grow in partial shade.
  3. Stabilize it. When planting dig a deep enough hole to bury at least a quarter of the branch or clipping. This will provide stability as the new tree puts out roots.
  4. Limit Water. Gumbo Limbos are drought resistant and are adapted to Florida’s climate. Water occasionally as it starts to take root and grow. Once it starts to gain height only water it in times of extreme drought. Try to plant it away from irrigation or sprinklers. If that is impossible then make sure it has time to dry out between watering.
  5. For best results fertilize it 2 to 3 times a year with a granular fertilizer at the change or the seasons.
  6. They are Floridian! These trees are native to Florida and its environment. They require little care or maintenance if planted in its native soil.
  7. Beware! They grow fast. Gumbo Limbo trees can reach heights of 30-40 feet with a canopy of 60 feet. They achieve this size relatively quickly with an average life span for the tree is about 100 years. Roots match the size of the canopy so If you do not want a large root ring then trimming the canopy will be necessary.
  8. Do not worry if the leaves from your clipping fall off. The leaves will all drop off the clipping until it puts out its roots. You will start to notice growth from the new Gumbo Limbo after a few weeks to a month.

Gumbo Limbos go by many names the West Indian Birch, the Turpentine Tree, the Living Fence Post, and the Tourist Tree because the bark turns red and peels in direct sunlight. In cold weather the Gumbo Limbo will lose its leaves but they do grow back in the spring usually accompanied by its berry like seeds.

We thought we knew it all.

All ficus trees and Australian pines were bad.

All gumbo limbos and sabal palms were good.

All palms survive better than shade trees in hurricanes.

And all natives are better than non-natives.

It turns out we were all wet.

Pamela Crawford, author, landscape designer and owner of Color Garden nursery in Lake Worth, researched the damage after last season’s hurricane assault on Florida to discover which trees survived and which didn’t. She and researcher Barbara Hadsell interviewed and surveyed county extension agents, botanical gardens, garden clubs and homeowners. They combined what they found with a survey done post-Hurricane Andrew by Mary L. Duryea, professor of urban forestry at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Crawford recently published the results in Stormscaping: Landscaping to Minimize Wind Damage in Florida (Color Garden, $29.95). Based on her findings, we asked Crawford to give us a list of the six best and worst trees to plant in South Florida.


1. AUSTRALIAN PINE (Casuarina equisetifolia L.) — One of the worst trees to have near your house during a hurricane, its shallow roots cause it to topple and expose a large, expensive-to-remove root ball. This non-native is also disliked because it is invasive. During Hurricane Andrew, 96 percent fell and 60 percent of the trash from Hurricane Charley on Sanibel and Captiva was Australian pine debris. Remove Australian pines within falling distance of your house. Low wind tolerance.

2. FICUS (Ficus benjamina) — One of the most destructive trees in South Florida, it has shallow roots and a dense canopy, making it a prime blow-over candidate. The root balls are huge, making it dangerous and expensive to remove. Less than 50 percent were left standing in Hurricane Andrew; some went down in only 60-mph winds. Proper pruning and allowing aerial roots to grow increases stability. Substitute the native strangler fig. Low wind tolerance.

3. LAUREL OAK (Quercus laurifolia) — The native laurel oaks fell down more than any other tree during last year’s four hurricanes. Weaker and shorter lived than live oaks, this fast grower can reach 70 feet. South Florida didn’t have the fatalities of Central and North Florida, where winds were stronger and trees were older. The ones most affected were more than 40 years old. Remove laurel oaks within falling distance of your house. Low wind tolerance.

4. MAHOGANY (Swietenia mahogani) — Although professionals disagree about this native tree’s wind tolerance, the wood is brittle and branches break up even in low winds. Although it looks ravished after a storm, it will rarely uproot. Improper pruning and trees with competing leaders contributes to branches breaking and splitting. A shade tree, most are 30 to 40 feet tall, but it can grow to 70 feet. Low wind tolerance.

5. QUEEN PALM (Syagrus romanzoffiana) — Many palms do well in hurricanes, but the queen was the exception. One of the most common palms used in Central and South Florida, it fell down during last year’s hurricanes all over the state — from Punta Gorda to Palm Beach Gardens. Queens uproot rather than snap at the trunk. It was one of the five species that did the most damage during Hurricane Andrew. Remove those within falling distance of your house. Low wind tolerance.

6. TABEBUIA (Tabebuia spp) — They have beautiful blooms in the spring but are one of our least wind-tolerant trees. They can fall down in winds of only 25 mph. During last year’s hurricanes, the negative reports involved only the yellow tabebuia, not the pink version. If you have one of these trees and want to save it, make sure it is permanently staked. Low wind tolerance.



1. PYGMY DATE PALM (Phoenix roebelenii) — The best tree for wind tolerance in South Florida, it survived Hurricane Andrew and fared well last year in Vero Beach when hurricane winds hit more than 120 mph. It did not need re-staking or pruning. This slow-growing feather palm from Laos and southeast Asia reaches about 10 feet and comes with single or multiple trunks. Very high wind tolerance.

2. SABAL PALM (Sabal palmetto) — Buildings around sabals fell apart while these tough native palms stayed standing in Punta Gorda and survived winds of more than 145 mph in Hurricane Andrew. Less attractive than some other palms, they are not recommended for front yards. Plant a few trees close together in back yards to protect plants underneath. They grow to about 50 feet and thrive in almost all conditions. Very high wind tolerance.

3. LIVE OAK (Quercus virginiana) A large native tree that grows to about 50 feet, it has been called the most wind-tolerant shade tree for Florida. Some died where Hurricane Charley made landfall, but not far away they survived and started growing leaves three months after the storm. It was the top shade tree to survive Hurricane Camille, the strongest hurricane to hit the United States. But roots need room to spread, and it can become unstable if planted on residential properties with small yards. Very high wind tolerance.

4. GUMBO LIMBO (Bursera simaruba) — A native tree, it was one of the top survivors of Hurricane Andrew. Although it loses most of its leaves and smaller branches in a hurricane, the tree can survive Category 3 winds. Also known as the “tourist tree” because of its red, peeling bark, it can grow to 50 feet. Gumbo limbo has been known to survive floods better than most other trees. Fast growing, it can provide quick shade. High wind tolerance.

5. CRAPE MYRTLE (Lagerstroemia indica) — A tree with great wind resistance, it offers big showy clusters of flowers in white and many shades of pink, purple, lavender and red. One of the longest-blooming trees, flowers can last 60-120 days in summer. It drops its leaves and has pest problems. After Category 4 Hurricane Charley, they were battered but didn’t uproot or have broken branches. In Hurricane Ivan, only a few were uprooted, aside from those on the coast. A fast grower, it can reach 40 feet. High wind tolerance.

Learning Curve — South Florida Plants

Jeff Wasielewski, Former Assistant Curator of Tropical Fruit

I have twenty-nine years of experience. I have been learning from day one: language, motor-skills, reading, writing and arithmetic. Everyone has been. We all learn every day. When Hurricane Andrew blew me outdoors, my new interest in horticulture led me to learn all I could on the subject, studying books from the library, volunteering and working at the Garden, attending lectures given by various plant societies, taking classes and eventually earning a horticultural degree from Miami-Dade Community College.

All of these things taught me about horticulture, but nothing taught me as much as simply taking a few minutes a day to look at my garden. There I learned things that were hidden between the lines of my books or lost in a professor’s lecture notes. My garden has taught me what works. Healthy plants don’t lie. I encourage you to try the same approach. Walk in your garden when you come home from work. See what the lady bugs are doing to the aphids. Ask yourself why a particular plant isn’t doing well. Does it get too much water or sunlight, or is it just not adapted to our soils? Your garden holds the answers. Mine has taught me well.

Growing plants in South Florida can be difficult. Poor soils, dry winters and a host of insect pests can cause your plants to sicken or die. If you ask me how I beat the problems posed by the South Florida landscape, I will repeat the answers my garden has given me.

One answer is to grow what is suited to our conditions. Following are my top South Florida plants, all adapted to our poor soils and brutal summers. Each one is tried and true, resistant to drought, pests and fungus. They are bullet proof.

Large Trees

Live Oak, Quercus virginiana

This splendid, massive, beautiful native tree can reach heights of 60 feet with a spread almost as wide. Its rough textured bark is the perfect host for epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads. It needs a large space and should not be planted under power lines. It is a slow grower resulting in strong, dense wood that can be used for woodworking and firewood. Plant young trees to ensure a healthy root system.

Gumbo Limbo, Bursera simaruba

The Gumbo Limbo may be my all time favorite tree. Glossy leaves perched above a glowing red bark make this tree the beauty pageant winner of the native plant world. One of the fastest growing trees I know, it quickly provides shade in newly planted gardens. The fast growth rate also produces brittle wood, so don’t plant it too close to the house. The gumbo limbo can be easily grown from cuttings, but I recommend trees grown from seed, which have better developed root systems and will stand up better in a storm.

Native Tamarind Lysiloma latisiliquum

The native tamarind is another fast growing large native tree that can be used to provide shade. The small leaflets give the tree a feathered, graceful look. The bark is smooth and attractive, the fruit, inedible. The tree is host to harmless tree snails and numerous small insects which attract many species of birds making it a good tree to watch from afar.

Sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) based on a drawing by Elizabeth Smith

Sea Grape, Coccoloba uvifera

The Sea Grape is a fast growing tree that can be heavily pruned to produce a medium sized tree or a hedge, although I recommend using it as a specimn planting. The large leaves are red and glossy when young and quite attractive. The tree can either be male or female. If you have a female tree, you can look forward to wine colored bunches of grape sized berries which are are edible. Make sure you are really, really hungry before you try one of these fruit otherwise you may prefer to leave them to the birds. The varying shades of tan and brown of its bark are its best feature, giving it a painted quality.

Mango, Mangifera indica

The mango is the king of tropical fruit. The delicious fruit can be used in a variety of ways from mango salsa to being eaten out of hand. The handsome shade tree can reach heights of 45 feet or more; however, through cultivar selection and light pruning, trees can be kept to a manageable eight to ten feet. It is also a good epiphyte tree; its coarse bark provides housing for several different species of orchids and bromeliads.

Avocado, Persea americana

The avocado is another tropical fruit that can produce luscious fruit with minimal input from the homeowner. The tree doesn’t like having its roots wet, so plant it in a dry location. The tree can reach heights of 45 feet or more, but may be pruned to maintain a convenient height. Don’t let fruit trees get too tall because the taller the tree, the harder it is to pick the fruit. Don’t plant the avocado where falling fruits will be a hazard, as the heavy, solid fruit may hurt pedestrians or damage automobiles.

Small Trees, Large Shrubs

Croton, Codiaeum variegatum

Croton, Codiaeum variegatum

The croton is an old time South Florida favorite. Its colorful appearance doesn’t come from showy flowers, but from its leaves. They can be pink, yellow, green or shades thereof, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Plant it in full sun or partial shade; leaf color is related to the amount of sun it receives. Although it can reach heights of ten feet, it is very manageable, and can be pruned and maintained at three to seven feet if desired.

Firebush (Ramella patens) witb zebra longwing butterfly Based on a drawing by Elizabeth Smith

Firebush, Hamelia patens

The fire bush is a Florida native. Its small, red, tubular flowers and red-tinged leaves give the plant its name. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds and the fruit attracts a variety of other birds. The ten-foot tree can be maintained as a small tree or pruned back to a three-foot shrub. It blooms throughout the year. If the fire bush is planted near the native passionflower, Passiflora suberosa, you will have a complete habitat for zebra longwing butterflies.

Jatropha integerrima

Jatropha, Jatropha integerrima

The attractive jatropha can be used as a small tree reaching heights of 12 feet or pruned to a three to four foot shrub. The plant’s dark green leaves are accented by dark red blooms which last throughout the year. The flowers attract butterflies.

Bougainvillea sp.

Bougainvillea, Bougainvillea sp.

The bougainvillea is a vigorous vine that produces incredible shows of color. The red, pink, orange or white color explosions come from bracts which surround the small, inconspicuous flowers. Bougainvillea can stand on its own, but does best when grown on a trellis or tree. Its small thorns make it a good barrier to ani mals or people. The vine responds well to heavy pruning and will flower best when given a minimal amount of fertilizer and little to no irrigation.

Small Shrubs

Plumbago, Plumbago auriculata

Plumbago, Plumbago auriculata

The plumbago comes in white or light blue and produces a heavy bloom throughout the year. If cut back hard, it will come back nicely. It can reach heights of six feet, but I like to maintain it at two. It will bloom in dappled shade as well as full sun and is extremely drought tolerant.

Thryallis, Gaiphimia gracilis

The thryallis combines dark green foliage with numerous year-round bright yellow flowers that seem to glow. The plant does best in full sun. It may reach heights of five feet, but can be maintained at two. It responds well to occasional heavy pruning.

Pentas, Pentas lanceolata

Pentas attract butterflies and hummingbirds with flowers of white, red, pink and purple. This plant blooms year-round and can be grown as a perennial if heavily pruned each spring. I have had better luck treating it like an annual and replanting when it becomes leggy.

Palms & Cycads

Dioon edule

This attractive cycad is best used in full sun. It spreads three to four feet and can reach heights of four to five feet. While new, the pinnate leaves are soft and delicate, but once mature, they are stiff.

Sabal Palm, Sabal palmetto

Sabal Palm, Sabal palmetto

The sabal palm is the state tree of Florida. The old leaf bases can be left on the trunk, creating a nice habitat for ferns and epiphytes, or removed if you prefer a clear trunk. The leaves are palmate. Young trees spend many years developing a canopy and an underground trunk before producing a visible trunk. Birds enjoy its fruit.

Silver palm (Coccothrinax argentata) based on a drawing by Elizabeth Smith

Silver Palm, Coccothrinax argentata

The silver palm gets its name from the light-catching, silver sheen of the undersides of its thin, graceful palmate leaves. It seems to glow when the wind catches it. Perrine and North Homestead were once covered by this beautiful native palm. The thin trunk is only four to six inches in diameter. Slow growing, it may be planted within two to three feet of the house. It attracts birds.

Thatch Palm, Thrinax radiata

The dark green, palmate leaves of the thatch palm have a yellow eye in the center of the frond. It produces white fruit which attracts birds. The fast growing tree looks best when planted in groups. This Florida native is a perfect palm to build a landscape around. Its trunk reaches six to eight inches.

Sargent’s Palm, Pseudophoenix sargentii

Sargent’s Palm, Pseudo phoenix sargentii

The incredibly beautiful Sargent’s palm (buccaneer palm) is listed as an endangered species in its native Florida. Its dark-green, pinnate leaves lay in a single plane when young. As they fall, they leave a silver-gray leaf scar on the glowing gray trunk. Its dark-red berries attract birds.

Bismarckia, Bismarckia nobilis

Bismarckia, Bismarckia nobilis

The large bismarckia has a trunk of two to three feet. It comes in two forms – silver and green. The massive, palmate leaves of the silver form are a silver-gray from tip to leaf base. Specimens can be seen on the Garden’s main lawn, surrounded by purple queen. Although expensive, it makes an impressive statement in any landscape.

Veitchia arecina

This veitchia (Syn. Veitchia montgomeryana, Veitchia macdanielsii) is fast growing and can be used in a variety of situations from full sun to medium shade. It is susceptible to frost damage when young, but when mature, can make it through some very cold nights. The dark green, pinnate leaves make this an outstanding landscape palm. It looks best in groups, but can also be used as an accent.

Pygmy Date Palm Phoenix roebelenii

The pygmy date palm can be found in many yards and countless gas stations. Its beauty comes from its graceful, dark-green pinnate leaves. Although not usually a clumping palm, it is often planted in groups of two to four. The palm can reach heights of ten feet with a trunk of four to eight inches. The leaf bases harbor long spines, so be careful when pruning old fronds.

All of these plants are beautifully adapted to South Florida, thriving in our poor soils and strong sun with no irrigation and with little to no fertilizer. There are many other similar plants, and I challenge you to find them. Study the needs of plants you are considering and then try them out. Don’t be afraid to try something just to see if it works; some of your best learning experiences will be “mistakes.” Your garden will tell you what works and what doesn’t. It is only a matter of taking the time to lis ten to what your garden tells you. It’s time to see what you can discover in your own backyard.

Garden Views, November 2000

Gumbo Limbo Tree

A native of South Florida, the gumbo limbo tree is big and beautiful, with showy red bark and interesting branches low to the ground.

It develops unusual red bark that peels back – reminiscent of sunburned skin – which gives gumbo limbo the nickname of “Tourist Tree.”

These trees take up a lot of space with thick, low branches that stay near to the ground, so the tree fits best in a large yard.

The wood is lightweight, soft and easily-carved – it used to be used to make carousel horses. But in spite of these characteristics of the wood, a gumbo limbo is considered one of the most wind-tolerant trees and can withstand hurricane winds.

The “Tourist Tree” is one of the prettiest salt tolerant trees, making it a welcome shade tree for a coastal property.

It’s also popular with wildlife…the berries it produces in summer are a favorite with birds.

Plant specs

Best in Zone 10, gumbo limbo is a fast grower you can plant in full sun to partial shade.

Most seen in home landscapes are around 25 or 30 feet tall, though the tree can reach 40 feet.
Generally expect this tree to lose its leaves in winter, though during warmer winters or in the warmest regions of South Florida it may retain some foliage.

It’s drought tolerant (once established) and salt tolerant.

Plant care

No soil amendments are needed, though adding top soil or organic peat moss to the hole when you plant certainly won’t hurt.

Trimming a gumbo limbo tree is only necessary to remove too-low branches to allow for foot traffic or where the branches extend over a driveway.

These trees are drought tolerant once established. They’ll do best with regular irrigation and time to dry out between waterings. At the very least, water during dry spells.

Fertilize 3 times a year – in spring, summer and autumn – with a good quality granular fertilizer.

Plant spacing

Plant 15 to 20 feet from the house if you can. Any closer and you will be calling in a tree trimming company in the future.

Avoid placing near a drive or walk so roots and lower branches don’t become a problem as the tree matures.

Landscape uses for gumbo limbo tree

  • single specimen tree
  • along the edge of a large property

A.K.A. (also known as): Tourist Tree
COMPANION PLANT SUGGESTIONS: Since this tree’s lower branches grow out wide – and the tree can develop large surface roots, as well – you may want to leave the area underneath unplanted. Or use a low-growing groundcover such as Asiatic jasmine (jasmine minima). Nearby plants might include Panama rose, dwarf oleander, variegated pittisporum, white fountain grass, buddleia, and society garlic.

Other trees you might like: Sycamore, Mahogany

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Gumbo Limbo Tree | Bursera Simaruba | Canopy Family

Gumbo Limbo Tree
Bursera simaruba

Photo by Jenn Sinasac

The Gumbo Limbo tree is one of the most recognizable trees of the American tropics—often called the “tourist tree” because of its characteristic peeling red bark, reminiscent of a sunburnt tourist! This medium-sized tree grows to 30 meters tall and has a diameter of 1 meter or less. The leaves are pinnate with 7-11 leaflets and are arranged in spirals. The fruits are small, 3-valved capsules which encase one small seed covered in a red fatty seed coat (aril).

The Bursera simaruba is an important food source for many resident and migrant species of birds, as well as monkeys and squirrels, who feed on the aril. Gumbo Limbo is a very useful tree; its wood is suitable for light construction and firewood, and the resin is used as glue, varnish and incense. Anti-inflammatory properties in its leaves, bark and resin can be used to treat a variety of aches and pains. The resin is used as a treatment for gout. The bark is used as a common topical remedy for a variety of skin conditions including sores, measles, sunburn and insect bites, and a decoction can be taken internally to cure pain, cold and flu, fever and sunstroke. Furthermore, this tree is considered one of the most wind-resistant species and can act as a good wind barrier to protect crops and roads, and is commonly planted in hurricane zones.

Gumbo Limbo trees grow in a wide variety of habitats from south Florida through Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, to Brazil and Venezuela, and is common in the lowlands of central Panama around the Canopy Family lodges.

Cool Fact! The wood of the Gumbo Limbo tree was the traditional wood used to make carousel horses in the United States before plastic became popular.

All About the Gumbo-Limbo Tree

Ever heard of the gumbo-limbo tree? No, it’s not from a fantasy book, it’s a real tree that lives in the Everglades. In fact, it’s one of the best-known trees in south Florida. It’s also known as the “tourist tree,” because its peeling bark resembles the skin of South Florida visitors.

This tree has a shiny, red bark that has the appearance that it’s constantly peeling. It has green leaves that grow in spirals. It produces fruit mainly in March and April. The gumbo limbo tree is tall (grows rapidly), and it’s wood is easy to carve. It is very sturdy and hurricane resistant. But when they do fall, they can sprout from a broken branch on the ground; clearly, they are a very resilient plant! This tree is also considered a shade tree that thrives with minimal care.

The resin from the tree has medicinal purposes and can treat gout. Tea that is made from the tree’s leave is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.

In the Everglades National Park, there is a Gumbo Limbo Trail that is .4 miles round trip. Bicycles are not allowed on this path. This paved path brings visitors through a shaded, hammock of gumbo limbo trees, along with royal palms, ferns, and air plants. The trail is about 4 miles from the main park entrance. This is considered an easy path. Along this trail, there are signs identifying the trees and explaining how this forest formed. There are some deep holes surrounding the path and it is known to be a bit buggy.

Check Out the Gumbo-Limbo Trees

While you can check out these unique-looking trees on the Gumbo-Limbo Trail, you can also view these trees and even more vegetation on an airboat tour through the Park. Join Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours for a fun and exciting airboat adventure today. To book an airboat tour in the Everglades, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Gumbo Limbo Tree – Picture of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton

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 Gumbo Limbo Trees

Bursera simaruba

Bursera Simaruba or Gumbo Limo, these beautiful specimen trees are available from 10 feet tall to over 30feet tall and trunk calipers from 2 inches to 30 inches. We have a constant supply of these large trees in our holding yard to make your specimen tree sourcing easier.

Gumbo Limbo Description

Gumbo Limo Trees or Bursera Simaruba are large semievergreen trees, with an open, irregular to rounded crown, that may reach 60 feet in height with an equal or wider spread but is usually seen smaller (25 to 40 feet tall and 25 to 30 feet wide) in landscape plantings. The trunk and branches are thick and are covered with resinous, smooth, peeling coppery bark with an attractive, shiny, freshly-varnished appearance. The tree typically develops from two to four, large-diameter limbs originating close to the ground. A native of south Florida and the tropical offshore islands, the soft, lightweight and easily carved wood of gumbo-limbo was used for making carousel horses before the advent of molded plastics.

Click here for more information on Gumbo Limbo Trees

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