The Gumbo Limbo Tree (Bursera simaruba) is native to the southeastern most part of the U.S. , Caribbean and Central America. They can grow as fast as 6-8 feet in 18 months from a seedling. They are used by homeowners for their decorative looks because of their thick trunks and shiny red bark. They can be as thick as 1-3 ft. in diameter and grow to be 25-50 ft. tall. The bark almost appears sun burned and thus gets it nickname, “tourist tree”. The tree also gives off a resin that smells like turpentine when its bark is cut. The tree has soft bark and can be used for carving. It is surprisingly hurricane resistant despite it’s soft wood. I saw and photographed this clump of Gumbo Limbo trees in a yard on a homeowners property just off the Sanibel Island Beach.
The Gumbo Limbo tree is one of many different species of the genus Bursera. There is an excellent website showing different types of Gumbo Limbo trees at the Univ. of Florida IFAS website. The tree starts dropping its leaves in winter and also starts producing its flowers at the same time in winter. It produces berries which are popular with birds. It is generally pest resistant except for a few insects and a fungus which can kill the tree.