Friday, April 9, 2010

The Fascinating Gumbo-limbo Trees

I had noticed some smooth-barked, reddish trees in the Keys. I asked a shopkeeper about the ones in her parking lot. She informed me that they are Gumbo-limbo trees. I had heard of them.


I love the form created by their branches.




Notice the peeling of the red bark. It is sometimes called the West Indian Birch.



It is also sometimes called the Tourist Tree, because it is red and peeling, like the skin of a sunburned tourist.

I read online that Gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba)  is the traditional wood used for the manufacture of carousel horses in the United States. The sap is used for glue and medicinal purposes. The fruit serves as a food source for migratory birds. It’s considered the best tree to survive hurricanes. Its wood is practically rot-proof and living fences are sometimes planted by placing branches or posts in the ground, where they take root. The resin has been used by Indians as a preservative for canoes. Islanders in the past also used the sticky resin as something similar to fly-paper to catch birds to eat. It is thought that broth made from the bark may have been the original chicken gumbo soup.

What a fascinating and useful tree!


Pablo said...

You should consider submitting this to the next Festival of the Trees.

Island Rider said...

We have gumbo limbo trees growing here on our island on the top of an Indian mound. Reminder, I must go see how they did in the freeze.