Common Names: gumbo-limbo, West Indian birch, tourist tree
Family: Burseraceae (torchwood or gumbo-limbo Family)
tree Attracts Birds Fast Growing
The red peeling bark resembles sunburned skin thereby inspiring
Floridians to give it another common name: the tourist tree.
Gumbo-limbo is a medium sized fast-growing tree, that can attain
height of 20-50 ft (6.1-15.2 m). It has pinnately compound
(featherlike) leaves and attractive reddish bark that peels away in
thin flakes to reveal a smooth and sinuous gray underbark. The
tree's massive trunk is 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) in diameter and supports
huge irregular branches and a spreading, rounded crown. The leaves
are 4-8 in (10.2-20.3 cm) long and have 3-7 oval or elliptic
leaflets, each 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) long. Semi-deciduous gumbo-limbo
loses all its leaves in early spring just before the new leaves
appear. The tree blooms in winter, producing small inconspicuous
flowers composed of 3-5 greenish petals arranged in elongate racemes
(spikelike clusters with each flower on its own stem). Staminate
(male), pistillate (female), and perfect (both) flowers usually
occur on a single tree. The dark red elliptic fruits are about a 0.5
in (1.3 cm) long and take a year to mature. Fallen gumbo-limbo trees
resprout with suckers and sometimes form thickets. The wood is
light-weight, light in color, soft and brittle.
In Florida gumbo-limbo occurs naturally in coastal hammocks, above
the mangrove zone, from Brevard and Pinellas Counties southward.
Bursera simaruba also occurs in the West Indies, Mexico, Central
America and northern South America.
Light: Full sun or partial shade.
Moisture: Water when dry. Gumbo-limbo does not tolerate constantly
Hardiness: USDA Zones 10B - 12.
Propagation: A green gumbo-limbo branch simply stuck into the moist
ground will take root and grow rapidly. It also is easy to propagate
Very fast growing, tolerant of salt and calcareous soils, the
gumbo-limbo, with its attractive shiny red exfoliating bark, makes a
beautiful specimen tree in a mild coastal location. It thrives with
little or no care. Gumbo-limbo makes a handsome summertime shade
tree, and is used as a street tree in coastal cities.
Gumbo-limbo is used as a living fencepost wherever it occurs.
Haitians make drums from the trunk of gumbo-limbo. A resin obtained
from the trunk and bark is called chibou, cachibou or gomart in the
West Indies, and is used to make glue, varnish, water repellent
coatings and incense. The resin smells a little like turpentine. The
fruits are eaten by several kinds of birds. The soft wood is easily
In South Florida, gumbo-limbo has been called the tourist tree
because of its red, flaking skin. The two largest gumbo-limbos in
the US are at the St. Mary's Star of the Sea Church in Key West and
on Captiva Island.
The torchwood family, with some 600 species in 15 genera,
includes the Old World trees that yield the important incenses,
myrrh and frankincense (Commiphora erythraea and Boswellia carterii,