Bursera simaruba

Common Name: gumbo-limbo 
Type: Tree
Family: Burseraceae
Native Range: Southern Florida, West Indies, Central America
Zone: 10 to 12
Height: 25.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 25.00 to 30.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Creamy white to pale green
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Shade Tree, Street Tree
Flower: Insignificant
Attracts: Birds, Butterflies
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Drought, Clay Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil, Air Pollution


Best grown in evenly moist to dry, well-draining, sandy loams in full sun. Tolerant of drought once established, wind, and moderate salt spray. Adaptable to a wide range of soils including clay and poor, rocky soils but does not tolerate consistently moist conditions. Propagate by seed or small branch cuttings. Larger branches can be used but the resulting trees may have reduced structural integrity. Hardy in Zones 10-12.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Bursera simaruba, commonly called gumbo-limbo, is a medium to large, semi-evergreen, fast-growing, resinous tree native to seasonally dry tropical forests and tropical hardwood hammocks in southern Florida (including the Florida Keys), the West Indies, and tropical Mexico south to Columbia and Venezuela. Mature specimens can reach 50-60' tall in the wild but tend to reach 25-40' tall and 25-30' wide in cultivation. The branching is irregular and the canopy tends to be open but overall rounded to spreading in shape. The trunk can reach 2-3' wide and has reddish-brown bark that exfoliates in small, thin flakes. The pinnately compound, 6-8" long leaves are made up of five (occasionally three or seven), oblong to ovate leaflets reaching up to 3" long and 1" wide with oblique (asymmetrical) bases and pointed tips. This tree typically sheds its foliage during the drier, winter season or in the spring as new growth is pushed out. Small, creamy white to pale green flowers are borne in spike-like panicles at the ends of the branches in late winter or spring. The flowers are followed by 0.25-0.5" long, elliptic fruits which mature over the course of a year from olive green to maroon and contain a three-sided, red nutlet. The flowers are pollinated by bees including orchid bees, honeybees, and stingless bees. Eusocial bees use resin from this tree to make propolis (or "bee glue"), a waxy mixture used to plug small, unwanted openings in their hives. This tree is the larval host for the dingy purplewing butterfly. The fruits are eaten by mammals such as monkeys and squirrels as well as multiple species of birds including flycatchers, kingbirds, oropendolas, caciques, woodpeckers, and the migratory red-eyed and white-eyed vireos. This tree provides important nesting habitat for many bird species including oropendolas, caciques, and the endangered Puerto Rican nightjar. The roots are parasitized by Bdallophytum, a genus of flowering plants endemic to the Neotropics.

The genus name Bursera honors Joachim Burser (1583-1649), German physician and botanist.

The specific epithet simaruba was chosen for this species by Linnaeus and refers to Simarouba amara (at various times spelled Simaruba). He knew both plants to be medicinal and native to Central America and northern South America.

The common name gumbo-limbo is of obscure origin.


Surface roots can cause issues with mowing and sidewalk heaving. The lowest branches of mature specimens tend to be held close to the ground. These sweeping, low-hanging branches are often desirable for accent trees in large, open spaces, but can obstruct pathways and mowing. Early pruning can help mitigated clearance problems later on and is highly recommended for street trees. The main limbs are resistant to wind damage.


This tree is widely cultivated for use as an accent specimen or shade tree in lawns, parking lots, and road medians. The wood is lightweight, spongy, and decays rapidly, but has been used to make plywood, matchsticks, and crates. Resin and essential oil extracted from this species are used to make varnish, glue, incense, insect repellent, and medicine. Cut branches can be stuck into the ground and will grow roots, producing a "living fence" to delineate property lines and pastures.