The gumbo-limbo tree is a beautiful Florida native that grows wild in the seaside regions of Brevard and Pinellas counties and south to the coastal islands. A quick rate of growth, an understandable happiness in the Florida climate and a unique appearance has made the gumbo-limbo a favorite shade and specimen tree throughout the state.
Gumbo-limbo is a medium-sized tree that rises to between 20 and 50 feet in height. The canopy is rounded, dense and spreading. The most remarkable thing about the tree may be its unusually thick trunk, which can attain a diameter of 2 to 3 feet. The coppery red bark peels away in strips, revealing the shiny greenish-gray surface below. The crown is supported by between two and four sturdy, low-growing branches. Inconspicuous green flowers bloom in the spring and ripen into small, red berries. The feathery, bright green leaves fall away for a short period during the winter months. Gumbo-limbo is the only tree native to Florida that sheds its foliage annually.
Plant gumbo-limbo trees in open areas away from sidewalks, allowing enough space to accommodate the crown. Gumbo-limbo grows equally well in full sun or partial shade. This tree appreciates watering during periods of drought but won’t tolerate boggy soils or wet feet. Gumbo-limbo trees are salt resistant and suitable for coastal plantings. Wind damage is usually minor, even in strong storms. The wood is lightweight and porous, and was used to make carousel horses before the invention of plastics. New growth sprouts readily from the scar if a branch breaks or falls away. Leaf litter is not a problem with this tree, and the colorful fruit is attractive to birds.
Use gumbo-limbo in large lawns to cast welcoming summer shade on picnics or barbeques. As a street tree, gumbo-limbo is an eye-catching, native Floridian conversation piece.