Characteristics of the Limbo Gumbo Tree (Bursera simaruba) in the Wild

Bursera simaruba
Gumbo Limbo or Tourist Tree (Bursera simaruba) is a species of tree in the Burseraceae family native to tropical regions of America. It stretches from South Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, Brazil, Jinotega, and Venezuela. This tree grows in the Petenes mangrove ecoregion in Yucat√°n, where it is the subdominant plant species in the mangroves.

Besides being known as Gumbo Limbo or Tourist Tree, Bursera simaruba also has many other names used in each region, including Copperwood, Chaca, West Indian Birch, and Turpentine Tree.

Gumbo limbo is a tree that is very beneficial economically and ecologically. They have fast growth and adapt well to various types of soil, such as salty and calcareous soils. Gumbo limbo is also considered one of the most wind-resistant trees and is recommended as a hurricane-resistant species in South Florida.

Gumbo limbo can be planted as a windshield, ornamental tree (especially bonsai), and road shade tree. Limbo gumbo wood is not very strong but can be used for light construction. The sap of the tree, called Chibou, Cachibou or Gomartis, can be used as glue, varnish, and incense.

The rapid growth of the limbo gumbo tree, ease of cultivation, low cost of propagation, and ecological versatility make it highly recommended as a “starter” tree in reforestation, even in degraded habitats, and performs much better overall than most exotic species.


Characteristics of Gumbo Limbo Leaf

Bursera simaruba Leaf

The leaves are spirally arranged and pinnate with 7-11 leaves. Each leaflet is ovoid, 4-10 cm long, and 2-5 cm wide.
Bursera simaruba Flower


Characteristics of Gumbo Limbo Fruit

Bursera simaruba Fruit

The fruit is a capsule, has three small valves that enclose a single seed covered with red fat aryl with a diameter of 5-6 mm. Ripe and unripe fruit have stems that are quite loose and can fall off spontaneously if the tree is shaken. Ripe capsules will be broken naturally or by birds. Birds also forage for fruit to feed on aryl, which, although small, are rich in lipids.

The gumbo limbo tree bears fruit several times a year, but the main fruiting seasons are March and April.


Characteristics of Limbo Gumbo Tree

Bursera simaruba Tree

Gumbo limbo grows as a small to a medium-sized tree that can reach 30 meters in height, with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5 meters.

Gumbo limbo is more commonly referred to as the “Tourist Tree” because its bark is red and peeling, like the skin of a sunburned tourist.


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