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Gumbo Limbo Tree

Gumbo Limbo TreeThe Gumbo Limbo (Bursera Simaruba, Sarg.), sole arborescent species of the single genus of its family represented in the United States, is a tree very commonly met with in southern Florida. It is the only native tree that sheds its leaves in the autumn. This habit it shares with the ubiquitous China tree of the Southern garden.

Winter reveals a round-headed tree, with stout horizontal limbs, trunk and branches covered with reddishbrown bark, which peels off in thin flakes of irregular sizes. The soft wood easily falls a prey to disease and insect injury; a tree 50 feet high often falls to pieces from these causes.

The species reminds one of willows in its ability to sprout from the stump and from fragments of any size set in the ground. Fence posts are soon clothed in verdant foliage if cut from a gumbo limbo tree and driven at once. Screens and hedges are made by sticking twigs into the ground.

Gumbo limbo is a popular street and lawn tree; its ash-like leaves, very new and fresh, make a grateful summer shade.

The flowers appear with the leaves in early spring. They are borne in lateral elongated clusters; the individual blossoms are imperfect and inconspicuous in size and colour, the two sorts on separate trees. The fruit looks like a green berry as it develops, but it breaks in ripening in a dry, 3-valved pod, each cell of which contains two triangular red seeds.

Beside its horticultural uses, the tree is valuable for a resinous gum which exudes from wounds in the trunk. This is made into varnish, and was formerly used in the treatment of gout. The Florida "cracker" makes tea of the leaves when "store tea" is not at hand.