Category Archives: Gumbo Limbo

Gumbo Limbo, Frankincense, and Myrrh

Bursera simaruba

(Burser is a personal name.  Simaruba reflects similarity to a different genus.)



Today John needed photos of MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island, Florida.   Aren’t many places I’d rather go!    So many wonders to behold, right in the city:

The Danzigergracht anchored off the beach—waiting to come or go from the Port of Palm Beach.


Gulf Fritillary on Sea-Lavender today. How can a butterfly flutter around in beachside gale?

Butterfly on sea lavender

Limber Caper pod.


And the good old Gumbo-Limbo tree.  If there’s one local tree everyone knows, this is it, and thus food for my conviction that the botany of everyday plants is more interesting and less pretentious than rare selections we don’t often see (but usually can if we want to drive for miles and listen to botanical priests).

Bursera simaruba 1

Gumbo Limbo peeling bark by John Bradford

Any 5th grader could tell us about the colorful peeling Gumbo Limbo bark, you know, tourist-tree and all that.    Why have such bark?    Notions, which are not mutually exclusive, include “molting” from fast growth (doesn’t strike me as a likely explanation); or shedding pesky algae, liverworts, lichens, mosses,  fungi, bacteria, or insects;   or providing a thin surface for stem gas exchange; or allowing photosynthetic activity in the stem itself.  The photosynthetic role comes up scattered in literature on this and close relatives, and, after all, the result of the peeling is continued re-exposure of green bark.  The green portion of he bark is loaded with chloroplasts.

Bursera simaruba 2

GL as it looks today, by JB

What I like best about Gumbo Limbo is the subtle fragrance of the resin.   No surprise, given that Frankincense and Myrrh are likewise members of the  Burseraceae Family.  F and M are native to the Old World.  In the New World species of Bursera have a similar history making life smell better.


Frankincense tree, in Oman, courtesy of Pat Bowman

The resin in some Bursera species is sufficiently pressurized to shoot herbivorous insects in a “squirt gun defense,” reportedly squirting as far as six feet and lasting multiple seconds.

Bursera simaruba 7

GL flowers by JB.  Not taken today.  The flowers come in varied mixes of male, female, and combo.   Almost all individuals make some fruits.

The fruits look like clusters of small grapes.  Each has a three-parted cover that falls away to leave behind a single sharp-edged, hard, reddish seed attractive to birds. Oddly the seeds don’t seem to offer much food value, but rather serve as grinding stones in bird crops, according to tree biologist Peter Tomlinson.



Posted by on January 19, 2018 in Gumbo Limbo, Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: