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Florida Trees: Bursera simaruba: Gumbo-Limbo1 Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2 UF/IFAS reprint

Bursera simaruba: Gumbo-Limbo1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

This large semievergreen tree, with an open, irregular to rounded crown, 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, light-weight and easily carved wood of gumbo-limbo was used for making carousel horses before the advent of molded plastics.

Figure 1. Mature 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 (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Uses: deck or patio; shade; specimen; street without sidewalk; parking lot island 100-200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. Range

Description

Height: 25 to 40 feet
Spread: 25 to 40 feet
Crown uniformity: irregular
Crown shape: round
Crown density: open
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: odd-pinnately compound
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: ovate, elliptic (oval)
Leaf venation: brachidodrome, pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: semi-evergreen
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Flower

Flower color: green
Flower characteristics: not showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit covering: fleshy
Fruit color: red
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; not showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; very showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: little required
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green, brown, reddish
Current year twig thickness: medium, thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; alkaline; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Other

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

Figure 3. Foliage

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 which 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 which 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.


Footnotes

1.This document is ENH263, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2006. Visit the EDIS Web Site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, 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 extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Larry Arrington, Dean



Copyright Information

This document is copyrighted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for the people of the State of Florida. UF/IFAS retains all rights under all conventions, but permits free reproduction by all agents and offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the people of the State of Florida. Permission is granted to others to use these materials in part or in full for educational purposes, provided that full credit is given to the UF/IFAS, citing the publication, its source, and date of publication.