How To Grow Gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) In Your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Bursera simaruba

Bursera simaruba, commonly known as the Gumbo-Limbo tree, is a tropical tree that adds a unique aesthetic to any garden. It has a distinctive copper-red, peeling bark, which resembles sunburned skin. This has earned it the nickname of "Tourist Tree."

A mature Gumbo-Limbo typically grows to around 30 feet (9.1 metres) tall, and can spread as much as 25 feet (7.6 metres) wide. This can make it a dominant feature plant in the landscape.

Gardeners and Landscapers appreciate the Gumbo-Limbo for its resilience and adaptability. The species thrives in a range of soil types and is resistant to wind, drought, and pests, making it suitable for coastal and urban gardens.

Gumbo-Limbo tree photograph
Gumbo-Limbo tree photograph by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble; CC.

Its rapid growth rate and hardiness are also appealing, as it tolerates poor soil and saline conditions. The Gumbo-Limbo falls within USDA hardiness zones 10-12 and RHS hardiness rating H1C, indicating its suitability for warm climates.

While this tree is native to Central and South America, and the Caribbean, it has become an established ornamental plant in Florida. However, care should be taken to manage its growth, as it has the potential to be invasive outside its natural range.

How to grow Bursera simaruba in the garden

When planning to grow a Gumbo-Limbo tree in your garden, selecting the right location is critical. Choose a spot that receives full sun or partial shade, bearing in mind the tree's mature height and spread to avoid crowding other plants or obstructing structures.

As for soil type, Bursera simaruba isn't picky. It tolerates a variety of soils including sandy, loamy, and clay, as long as they are well-draining. A pH ranging from acidic to alkaline is acceptable.

The Gumbo-Limbo can be propagated by seed or cuttings. If sowing seeds, the best time is during the warm, rainy months, typically between late spring and early summer.

Bursera simaruba photograph
Bursera simaruba photograph by Cyndy Sims; CC.

This is when the tree naturally disperses its seeds, mimicking the conditions will increase the likelihood of germination. If using cuttings, simply cut a branch, let it dry for a few days, then plant it directly in the soil.

It's worth noting that Gumbo-Limbo trees are fast-growing, so it won't be long before you see your tree taking shape.

Regarding care, this tree is low-maintenance. Water regularly during the first year to establish roots, but once mature, it is fairly drought-resistant.

No specific fertilization is necessary unless the soil is particularly poor. In such cases, a slow-release, balanced fertilizer applied in the growing season will suffice.

With these steps, you can enjoy the unique beauty and resilience of the Gumbo-Limbo tree in your garden.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

Scientific Name: Bursera simaruba

Common Name(s): Gumbo-Limbo, Tourist Tree, Copperwood

Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): USDA Zones: 10-12

Best Used For / Garden Location: Typically grown in tropical and sub-tropical gardens, ideal location is in full sun.

Plant Details

Life Cycle / Plant Type: Perennial/Deciduous Tree

Plant Height: 30-50 feet (9-15 meters)

Plant Spread: 20-30 feet (6-9 meters)

Blooms: Late winter to early spring

Flower Details: Small, greenish flowers, inconspicuous

Leaf Foliage: Bright green, compound leaves, aromatic when crushed

Fruit: Bright red, clusters of small drupes, attracting birds

Growing Conditions and Location

Best Light Conditions: Full sun, can tolerate partial shade

Suitable Soil Types: Well-drained, sandy or loamy soil

Sowing / planting: Sow seeds in spring in a warm greenhouse. Transplant seedlings when they are large enough to handle.

Germination time: Germination typically takes 2-4 weeks at 70-75°F (21-24°C)

Propagation: By seeds, cuttings, or air-layering

Plant Care: Regular watering during dry spells, minimal pruning required

Growing in pots and containers: Can be grown in large containers while young, needs transplanting as it grows.

Growing as a House plant: Not suitable as an indoor plant due to size and light requirements.

Further Information

Miscellaneous: Tolerant to salt and wind, making it suitable for coastal gardens. Attracts a variety of birds due to its fruit. Can be invasive in some areas outside its native range, including parts of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia.

Pests and diseases: Generally pest-free but can be susceptible to scales and mealybugs.

Common Cultivars / Varieties: *Bursera simaruba 'Variegata'* notable for its variegated foliage with cream-colored edges. *Bursera simaruba 'Simpson's Stopper'* stands out with its attractive red fruit.

Family: Burseraceae, the Frankincense family.

Native: Southern Florida, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean

References and Further Reading: University of Florida IFAS Extension – Bursera simaruba Gumbo-Limbo []

Missouri Botanical Garden – Bursera simaruba []

IFAS Extension – Gumbo-Limbo [].

Common Questions

What are Bursera simaruba uses? The Gumbo-limbo, or Bursera simaruba, is a real marvel! You can use it for shade, to stop soil erosion, or even for its medicinal resin. It's also a beauty in any garden!

Is Bursera simaruba evergreen? Absolutely, the Gumbo-limbo is a vibrant evergreen! It retains its lush green leaves all year, keeping your garden bright and inviting, no matter the season.

What is the lifespan of a gumbo limbo tree? Your Gumbo-limbo tree can be a lifelong companion! If well cared for, it can live from 50 to 100 years, or even more. Its enduring presence will be a garden's treasure.

Gumbo-Limbo leaves
Gumbo-Limbo leaves image by Forest and Kim Starr; CC.

Gumbo limbo Summary

Bursera simaruba, commonly known as Gumbo-limbo or West Indian birch, is a tropical tree. It can be grown in a garden by providing well-drained soil, full sun to partial shade, and regular watering. It is tolerant of salt, making it suitable for coastal regions. Pruning helps maintain its shape.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Bursera simaruba. You may also enjoy the following growing guides: How to grow White Willow trees, Quercus robur, and Euphorbia trees in the garden.

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