Bursera simaruba (Gumbo-limbo) is a tree species in the family Burseraceae, native to tropical regions of the Americas from the southeasternmost United States (southern Florida) south through Mexico and the Caribbean to Brazil and Venezuela.
Bursera simaruba, commonly referred to as "Gumbo-limbo," is a small to medium-sized tree growing to 30 m tall, with a diameter of 1 meter or less at 1.5 meters above ground. The bark is shiny dark red, the leaves are spirally arranged and pinnate with 7-11 leaflets, each leaflet broad ovate, 4-10 cm long and 2-5 cm broad.
The Gumbo-limbo is often referred to as the Tourist Tree. The reason for this is the fact that the tree's bark is red and peeling, like the skin of sunburnt tourists which are a common sight in the plant's range.
Some ripe fruits are present year-round, but the main fruiting season is March and April in the northern part of the plant's range. The fruits are a small three-valved capsule encasing a single seed which is covered in a red fatty aril (seedcoat) of 5-6 mm diameter. Both ripe and unripe fruits are borne quite loosely on their stems and can spontaneously detach if the tree is shaken. Ripe capsules dehisce or are cracked open by birds. Birds also seek out the fruit to feed on the aril, which though small is rich in lipids (about half its dry weight).
The arils are an important source for birds, including many winter migrants from North America. Local residents such as the Masked Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, Black-faced Grosbeak and, in Hispaniola, Palmchat, seem particularly fond of Gumbo-limbo fruit, as are migrants like the Baltimore Oriole or the Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Especially for vireos such the Red-eyed Vireo, it appears to be a very important food at least locally and when ripe fruit are abundant. Especially notable is the fact that many migrant species will utilize Gumbo-limbo trees that are in human-modified habitat, even in settlements. This creates the opportunity to attract such species to residential areas for bird watching, and to reduce the competition for Gumbo-limbo seeds in undisturbed habitat rarer local resident birds might face. In addition, Gumbo-limbo's rapid growth, ease and low cost of propagation, and ecological versatility make it highly recommended as a "starter" tree in reforestation, even of degraded habitat, and it is certainly does much better overall in such a role than most exotic species.
The resin is also used as a treatment for gout, while the leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea. Hexane extracts of the leaves have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory properties in animal tests. Gumbo-limbo bark is also considered an antidote to Metopium toxiferum which often grows in the same habitat and can cause extreme rashes just as the related poison ivy. Given the eagerness with which some birds seek out the arils, it may be that these contain lipids or other compounds with interesting properties; these would probably have to be synthetically produced however because, though the crop of a single tree can be large (up to or even exceeding 15,000 fruits, translating into a raw lipid yield of over 200 grams per harvest) individual seeds are small and cumbersome to harvest.
Frequency of Indio desnudo trees (Bursera simaruba, Burseraceae) in riparian vs. non-riparian habitats in three successional stages of tropical dry forest. (Biology Poster Abstracts).(Brief Article)
Jun 01, 2001; Robin A. Marrs* Indio desnudo trees (Bursera simaruba, Burseraceae) were observed to be growing more densely near streams. To...
Data on molecular phylogenetics and evolution described by researchers at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.
Dec 21, 2010; Researchers detail in 'Diversification in species complexes: tests of species origin and delimitation in the Bursera simaruba...
Effects of Fertilisation on Soil Nutrient Characteristics and the Growth of Tree Stand in Secondary Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests in Mexico
Jul 01, 2012; CAMPO J, SOLÍS E & GALLARDO JF. 2012. Effects of fertilisation on soil nutrient characteristics and the growth of tree stand in...