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Gumbo-limbo Bursera simaruba
Copyright by: Melissa E. Abdo
General Landscape Uses:
An excellent accent or specimen tree in moist to dry soils. It can be used as a street tree and in commercial and residential landscapes. A good shade tree in the hot summer months.
Ecological Restoration Notes: One of the most common and important canopy trees in tropical hammocks.
Description: 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.
Dimensions: Typically 30-50 feet in height; to 64 feet in South Florida. Can be as broad as tall or broader.
Growth Rate: Fast to moderate.
Monroe County Keys north, mostly along the coast, to Brevard, Glades, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, with more recent records to the north of this area; West Indies, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. It is more common on the east coast of peninsular Florida to about Cape Canaveral, 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.
Soils: Moist, well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with humusy top layer.
Nutritional Requirements: 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 significant injury.
Drought Tolerance: High; does not require any supplemental water once established.
Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade.
Flower Color: Greenish.
Flower Characteristics: Inconspicuous. Unisexual or perfect, with flowers of both sexes on the same tree.
Flowering Season: All year; peak winter-spring.
Fruit: 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. Attracts bees and other insect pollinators. Kingbirds and other flycatchers eat the fruits.
Horticultural Notes: 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.
References: Hammer 2004, Nelson 2003, Schaefer & Tanner 1997
Comments: 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.
Copyright by: Melissa E. Abdo
Copyright by: George D. Gann, 2019 In habitat, Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade County
Copyright by: Roger L. Hammer
Copyright by: Hans van der Heiden, 2019 In habitat, George N. Avery Pineland, Miami-Dade County