Medium to large tree with a rounded and usually broad spreading crown, moderately dense to open. Trunk thick, sometimes short, 1-3 feet in diameter. Bark thick and resinous; almost always with a thin, red peeling outer layer which varies in color from tree to tree. Leaves compound, 6-8 inches long; leaflets thin, smooth, becoming mottled with age. Semi-deciduous, losing its leaves immediately before leaf turnover and during extended periods of drought.
Typically 30-50 feet in height; to 64 feet in South Florida. Can be as broad as tall or broader.
Fast to moderate.
Monroe County Keys north, mostly along the coast, to Brevard, Pinellas and Hillsbrough counties; West Indies, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. It is common on the east coast of South Florida, but less so in the interior and on the west coast. For a digitized image of Elbert Little's Florida range map, visit the Exploring Florida website.
Moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with humusy top layer.
Moderate; can grow in nutrient poor soils, but needs some organic content to thrive.
Salt Water Tolerance:
Moderately low; does not tolerate long-term flooding by salt or brackish water, but tolerates short term inunation by salt water from storm surge with minimal damage.
Salt Wind Tolerance:
High; can tolerate moderate amounts of salt wind without injury.
High; does not require any supplemental water once established.
Full sun to light shade.
Inconspicuous. Unisexual or perfect, with flowers of both sexes on the same tree.
All year; peak winter-spring.
Greenish-brown to red-purple fleshy capsule, separating into three sections at maturity, exposing one or two reddish seeds.
Wildlife and Ecology:
Provides moderate amounts of food and cover for wildlife. Larval host plant for dingy purplewing (Eunica monima) butterflies. Kingbirds and other flycatchers eat the fruits.
Can be grown from seeds or cuttings, even large limbs. Seeds germinate within a month. Some say that plants grown from cuttings are not as strong as those raised from seed.
Gumbo-limbo is one of our fastest growing and most versitile native trees. It has attractive reddish flaking bark, thus one of its common names "tourist tree." In high winds, such as from hurricanes, the trunks usually will not blow over, but the tree will lose some of its limbs and will refoliate quickly. Calusa Indians and others used the sticky bark resin to trap songbirds for food or trade.
Melissa E. Abdo
George D. Gann In habitat, Everglades National Park, Florida
Gann, G.D., M.E. Abdo, J.W. Gann, G.D. Gann, Sr., S.W.
Woodmansee, K.A. Bradley, E. Grahl and K.N. Hines. 2005-2016. Natives For Your Neighborhood. http://www.regionalconservation.org.
The Institute for Regional Conservation. Delray Beach, Florida USA.