Tree of the Week-Tropical Gumbo Limbo

I hate to start a post with a crime scene photo but here it goes.

Pollarded Gumbo Limbo Tree

This tree caught my eye on an earlier trip as a great looking specimen before it was maimed. The so called pruning technique here is called pollarding. The name comes from the word poll, as in a polled Hereford with its horns cut off. The “horns” of the tree are cut off to make this denuded form. It is said that this controls the size of the tree allowing small sprouts from the cut ends to come out like a broom. In my opinion a tragic crime done to a nice tree.

Here is a picture of a normally grown Gumbo Limbo tree.

Normal (that is NOT pollarded) Gumbo Limbo tree

The Latin name of the Gumbo Limbo Tree is Bursera simaruba. It is a native Florida tree. It is found throughout the tropical regions of the Americas and is a popular landscape tree. It has been nicknamed the Tourist tree for its peeling red bark reminiscent of the sunburned skin of tourists. It has small seeds covered in a red meat that is attractive to birds because of the high fat content.

The wood of the tree has been known as the ideal carving wood for carousel animals. It has also been used for living fence posts, as the living twigs jabbed into the ground will often sprout into trees and serve as a support for wire fences. The tree can grow quite large, up to 90 feet tall and three feet across. This large size is probably what led to the pollarding shown in the first picture. Homeowners often plant it and it outgrows its space.

The name Gumbo refers to the tree’s sap. It is sticky and resinous. The uses for it are numerous including glue, varnish and incense.

DMC Memory Thread

Butterfly done in stumpwork with memory thread in the wings and antennae.

I recently tried a new product from DMC which is a wired thread that you can couch down to make an element in embroidery. Here is a photo of a recent project that I made using butterfly wings assembled with Memory thread.


This week was finals week at most US colleges, so I am saluting our burned out students with a post about Energy drinks. These have been very popular for the past few years, offering a burst of sugar, caffeine, and magical herbal substances including Guarana. The main chemical ingredient in Guarana is caffeine. It also contains some antioxidants and theobromine (of chocolate fame) and theophylline which are heart stimulants.

In South America, the Guarana plant has been used for centuries as a stimulant and memory enhancer. No wonder students drink the stuff.

According to tropical lore, the berries from the Guarana plant are processed and dried and then pounded into a dry powder. The powder is added to water and a dough results which is rolled out into small cylinders. It is known as Brazilian coke. It is used by grating into a beverage and sweetened to taste. It is more popular in Brazil than cola drinks. It is so widely known that the word for soda is often “Guarana” regardless of the flavor of the beverage. The most popular brand is the Antarctica soft drink. More caffeine is consumed in South America from guarana than from coffee and colas combined.

There is some evidence to suggest Guarna has some health effects. In the ‘Pharmacological Activity of Guarana (Paullinia cupana) in laboratory Animals’ by Espinola, E.B. Dias RF et al J. Ethnopharmcol 55 (3); 223-9, it increased memory and endurance when compared to a placebo in rats.

In humans, memory, alertness and mood were increased by moderate doses. It is also generally recognised as safe by the US government. Since the main effects seem to be from the caffeine, I cannot say whether it would do much more than a cup or two of coffee, but whatever floats your boat. The main thing that will help you do better on exams is more studying. If a soft drink with mystical powers is your drug of choice, it may allow you to study more. I would think unstimulated study sessions and a good night’s sleep would be the best, but I am just a Mom, not a brain scientist. Good luck, kids.

Tree of the week- Madagascar Screw Pine

Screw pine

    Pandanus utilis

Family Pandanaceae

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Monocot dioecious (two plants)
This is an interesting tree we saw driving around in Florida. We had no idea what it was and we had trouble finding the name of it. Strangely, it is called the Screw Pine although it is not a pine nor does it resemble a pine. I am not sure how the Pine name got started. The tree turns out to be a tree from Madagascar and is often planted for an ornamental. The tree is in the flowering plant group, but it is a monocot; more like a grass, lily or orchid with parallel leaf veins. The flowers are of two types, male and female and borne on separate trees. The male, pollen producing flowers are large tresses of little flowers that hang down together in a grouping like a bunch of grapes but instead of grapes, they are small petalless flowers tumbling out pollen. The female flowers look more like a round soccer ball with little teeth all over it. We saw this one bearing green but ripening fruits that looked like hand grenades. They ripen up to an orangy red and then drop out things that look like giant kernals of corn. These fall all over the ground beneath the tree and are food for little animals such as rodents. They apparently are not good tasting for people to eat, although not a poisonous fruit.

The trees are quite ornamental in a strange looking way. They develop many prop roots around the base of the trunk that are quite striking. The tree grows to about 25 feet tall and about the same size spread. If you are selecting one to grow in the landscape, you should decide whether you want to pick up hand grenade type fruits when they drop all over the lawn or polleny inflorescences. Both sexes create some mess that requires clean up.

Overall, an interesting tree for a specimen in the landscape.