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Bursera simaruba - (L.) Sarg.

Common Name Gum Tree, Gumbo Limbo
Family Burseraceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Generally found in dry forests, but sometimes in wetter forests; common in advanced secondary growth[ 303 ]. In the wetter areas of its range it is more likely to be found growing on slopes where the soil is shallow and dries quickly[ 510 ].
Range S. America - Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana; north through the Caribbean to Florida; C. America - Panama to Guatemala.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Bursera simaruba Gum Tree, Gumbo Limbo

Bursera simaruba Gum Tree, Gumbo Limbo


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Native to tropical America, Gum Tree, Bursera simaruba, is a drought-tolerant, deciduous tree that reaches up to 25 m tall when fully matured. It has a single trunk that is smooth and red. The leaves are bright green and the flowers are creamy white. The fruits are edible succulent red berries. Medicinally, gum tree promotes sweating, urination, bowel movement, and healing of wounds. It is used as treatment for dropsy, dysentery and yellow fever. Gum tree leaves are tea substitute. The bark produces American elemi, otherwise known as cachibok or gomart, a balsam resin used in varnishes and as gum arabic substitute. It has many other uses such as glue, canoe paint, incense, and insect repellent. The wood is soft and light, ideal as veneer, plywood, rustic furniture, match sticks and toothpicks, cabinets, etc. When dried, it is used as firewood or charcoal.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of lolypop
Bursera simaruba is a deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 16 m (52ft) at a medium rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 10 and is frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Insects, especially bees. The plant is not self-fertile.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils and can grow in very alkaline and saline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Bursera gummifera L. Bursera ovalifolia (Schldl.) Engl. Elaphrium ovalifolium Schltdl. Elaphrium sim

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves
Edible Uses: Gum  Tea

Edible portion: Leaves - tea. The leaves are used as a tea substitute[ 301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Diaphoretic  Diuretic  Dysentery  Purgative  Vulnerary

The resin obtained from the bark is diaphoretic, diuretic, purgative and vulnerary[ 46 , 348 ]. It is used in the treatment of dropsy, dysentery and yellow fever[ 46 ]. It is an effective vulnerary[ 348 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Biomass  Charcoal  Fencing  Fuel  Furniture  Gum  Incense  Preservative  Repellent  Resin  Varnish  Wood

Other uses rating: High (4/5). Seaside, Street tree, Massed as an accent, Xerophytic. Agroforestry Uses: Trees are used as living fence to delimit pastures, using stakes 1 - 3 metres long, 10 - 15cm thick, and spaced 3 metres or more apart[ 303 ]. Other Uses The bark yields a balsam resin known as American elemi, cachibok or gomart[ 303 ]. It is used in varnishes and as a substitute for gum arabic (from Acacia spp.)[ 46 ]. It is painted on canoes to preserve the wood from insects etc[ 46 ]. It is also used as a glue for mending broken china and glass[ 46 , 510 ]. Used by the Maya as an incense since ancient times[ 46 ], it is still concentrated, dried and used in modern South America as incense in churches[ 46 , 303 ]. The aromatic resin is a natural insect repellent, and no pests or diseases are reported for this species[ 303 ]. The heartwood is white, yellowish, or light brown; it is not differentiated from the sapwood. Both the heartwood and sapwood are often discoloured to a gray by sap-staining fungi[ 378 ]. The texture is fine to medium; the grain fairly straight; lustre is moderate and there is no distinctive taste or odour. The wood is soft, light in weight, firm, tough, not very durable in contact with the soil[ 378 ]. It works easily with all types of tools and machines; saws cleanly; planes to a smooth finish; drills cleanly with some tearing at the exit side; and turns readily on the lathe. The wood takes all stains and polishes well and holds nails firmly without splitting[ 378 ]. It is used for veneer, as plywood for interior use, in rustic furniture, for rough boxes and crates, as handles for tools, as soles for sandals, for match sticks and toothpicks, to build cabinets, to make decorative articles[ 303 ]. When thoroughly dry, the wood is used as firewood or charcoal[ 303 ]. This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Coppice

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Coppice  Regional Crop

A plant of the tropical regions of Central America, where it is found growing at elevations up to 1,000 metres[ 303 ]. It prefers areas where the mean annual temperature is in the range 18 - 25°c, and the mean annual rainfall is 800 - 3,000mm[ 303 ]. Prefers a sunny position and a well-drained soil[ 200 ]. Grows on a range of soils, including Lithosols, Vertisols and Oxisols[ 303 ]. Succeeds in dry soils[ 303 ]. Established plants are drought resistant[ 510 ]. Plants can be pruned back very hard and will resprout successfully[ 510 ]. A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if seed is required[ 200 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Living fence  Simply managed rows of shrubs and trees.
  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed. Forty per cent germination occurs within 20 days[ 303 ]. Seed storage behaviour is orthodox. Seeds remain viable for 10 months[ 303 ]. Cuttings root easily. Even large branches 1 - 3 metres long will produce roots[ 510 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Gum Tree, Bursera simaruba. Other Names: Tourist Tree, Copperwood, chaca, and Turpentine tree, Torchwood, Dysentery Bark , Incense tree, West Indian birch, Indio pelado, Jinote, Carana, Indio desnudo.

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Central America, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, North America, Panama, South America, Trinidad & Tobago, USA, Venezuela, West Indies.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

None Known

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

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Canarium ovatumPili NutTree20.0 10-12 MLMHNM433
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Commiphora wightiiGuggul, Indian bdellium-treeShrub4.0 10-12 SLMNDM234
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Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Expert comment


(L.) Sarg.

Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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