Carol Cloud Bailey
Plant Common Name
Gumbo Limbo, Tourist Tree, Turpentine Tree
This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.
Numerous, laugh-inspiring common names abound for the gumbo limbo, which has beautiful bark and lustrous bright green leaves. The smooth, swollen limbs and trunk base are the reason it's called red belly tree. The thin, peeling, reddish bark -- which looks like sunburned skin -- gives rise to the name tourist tree. The strong odor of gumbo limbo's wood is the reason for the name turpentine tree.
Gumbo limbo is native to the dry lowland thickets and woods across the Caribbean Basin, including southernmost Florida. The tree has a trunk with few branches that curl and bobble outward to create an irregular umbrella-like canopy. It is deciduous in prolonged droughts, but always drops leaves in spring before the lush, shade-casting new foliage finally appears at the start of summer.
The compound leaves are made up of multiple tapering oval leaflets. Branch tips bear spidery clusters of tiny ivory flowers any time of year temperatures are balmy. After pollination, grape-like clusters of tiny green fruits arise, later maturing to red. Parrots devour these fleshy seeded fruits.
Grow gumbo limbo in full to partial sun in any non-acidic, well-drained soil. It tolerates sand, heat, tropical storm winds and sea salt spray. Use it as a shade tree near the beach or along streets. Plant a grove to showcase the bark and branch silhouettes. Gumbo limbo works well in a water-conservation garden. Branches may be cut and stuck into the warm, moist soil to take root.
AHS Heat Zone
12 - 10
USDA Hardiness Zone
10 - 15
H1, H2, 13, 22, 23, 24
Full Sun, Partial Sun
15'-70' / 4.6m - 21.3m (30)
25'-50' / 7.6m - 15.2m (20)
Southeastern United States, Caribbean, Central America
Xeric/Desert, Drought Tolerant, Average Water
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter