Categories: Tree Types

Graham Murza


Every region has its iconic flora and fauna that signify the heart and soul of the area. When it comes to South Florida, one tree stands as a testament to the area’s unique character – the Gumbo Limbo, also known as Bursera simaruba. This tree, often affectionately referred to as the “tourist tree,” is a symbol of South Florida’s vibrant, tropical ecosystem.

The Gumbo Limbo tree is a true spectacle, and its ubiquity in the area makes it almost synonymous with the South Floridian landscape. With an average height of 30 to 60 feet, its large stature is unmistakable. Its bark, perhaps its most distinctive feature, appears to be peeling, resembling a tourist’s sunburnt skin, thus earning its nickname. The bark is also characterized by a unique copper-red hue that shimmers in the sunlight.

Ecological Importance

The Gumbo Limbo tree plays a pivotal role in the ecosystem. It serves as a refuge for various birds and insects, including the endangered Miami Blue butterfly, offering a safe habitat within its broad canopy. The tree’s small, fragrant green flowers are an abundant source of nectar, attracting several species of bees and butterflies.

Moreover, the Gumbo Limbo is a critical part of the forest structure, contributing to the soil’s fertility through its nutrient-rich fallen leaves and enhancing the overall biodiversity. It’s also incredibly resilient, able to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms better than many other trees. This ability is critical in South Florida, where such storms are prevalent.

Picture of a Miami Blue Butterfly
Picture of buds starting to bloom on a branch of the Gumbo Limbo Tree

Human Uses of the Gumbo Limbo

The Gumbo Limbo tree is not only an ecological marvel but also has several practical uses for humans. Native Americans traditionally used the tree’s resin to make glue, varnish, and incense, a practice that inspired the name of the Bursera genus, derived from the Latin “bursa,” meaning purse.

The tree’s lightweight but sturdy wood is ideal for making carousel animals, model airplanes, and even packing crates. It has also been used for centuries to create living fences. The tree’s rapid growth and high survival rate make it perfect for this purpose, providing a cost-effective and eco-friendly fencing alternative.

The Gumbo Limbo’s medicinal properties have also been recognized for generations. Indigenous cultures used its resin to treat gout, while the leaves and bark were employed for a variety of conditions, including skin infections, inflammation, and pain.

Picture of Gumbo Limbo planted in a line connected by wire to to form a living fence
Living Fence of Gumbo Limbo

Conservation Efforts

Given the Gumbo Limbo’s ecological and cultural importance, conservation efforts are crucial to maintaining this regional treasure. These efforts include protecting existing Gumbo Limbo trees, particularly in developed areas, and encouraging the planting of new ones.

The tree is also an excellent choice for reforestation and land rehabilitation due to its quick growth and adaptability. It thrives even in poor soil, making it a strong ally in combating soil erosion and enhancing biodiversity.

Experiencing the Gumbo Limbo


Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton


To truly appreciate the Gumbo Limbo, one must witness it firsthand. Several parks and nature centers in South Florida offer opportunities to experience this majestic tree. Among them, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton is an excellent starting point. Here, you can learn more about the tree, its ecosystem, and the conservation efforts in place to protect it.

The Gumbo Limbo is not just a tree; it is a symbol of South Florida’s resilience and ecological wealth. Its towering presence, coupled with its practical and environmental benefits, makes it a living landmark worthy of respect and protection.

In conclusion, the Gumbo Limbo is a true embodiment of South Florida’s unique tropical charm. Its ecological importance, practical human uses, and cultural significance are as remarkable as its distinctive physical attributes. As a pivotal part of South Florida’s ecosystem, the Gumbo Limbo tree stands tall, resilient, and beautiful, mirroring the spirit of the region itself. Whether you are a local, a tourist, or a plant enthusiast, the Gumbo Limbo tree is a must-see when exploring the splendors of South Florida.