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Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology


Bursera simaruba
Family: Burseraceae

Natural History


Gumbo-limbo is a tropical tree that is native to the southeastern United States. It adapts to a variety of habitats, from dry to moist, and is fairly salt-tolerant. It is also considered one of the most wind-tolerant trees in south Florida and is recommended as a good, hurricane-resistant species.

Gumbo-limbo is planted for shade and ornamental use on backyard patios, or along streets and highways. It readily sprouts from branches stuck into the ground and is sometimes used to plant natural, living fences.

The gummy, turpentine-scented resin has been used in the West Indies for making glue, varnish, liniments, and as a coating for canoes. The aromatic sap is also used as a treatment for gout, while the leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea. The light, soft, spongy wood is used for fence posts that have been known to take root in the ground and grow! Other small wood products such as matchsticks, toothpicks, charcoal, boxes, crates, and interior trim have also been made from gumbo-limbo.

Some birds, including mockingbirds and vireos, regularly consume the deep red fruits of gumbo-limbo during the summer and fall months.

Gumbo-limbo ranges from Cape Canaveral to southern Florida, including the Keys. It is also native to the West Indies, tropical Mexico, Guatemala, and northern South America.

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