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.


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.

Giant Trees


As Infamous travels south, I am noticing that people are naming giant trees.  There must be something in our human nature that is fascinated by them.  We are in awe of these tremendous giants that live many times longer than our lifetimes.  If you want to learn more about big trees, check out this website

Here is a giant Live Oak, in Savannah, GA called the Majestic Oak. 

The Majestic Oak, Savannah, Georgia

This photo is from the website

The tree above is a non-native species called the Mysore Fig.  It is the largest of its kind in the United States.  It was planted by a friend of Thomas Edison’s in Estero, near Fort Myers, Florida.  This guy has his own website where you can read all about it.  Notice the picture of it is GIANT, TOO.  This picture is from the website.  

(If I see any more giant things on this trip,  I will let you know.)  Infamousg.

Tree of the week: Windmill Palm

There are some advertisements going around lately about frost tolerant palm trees.  Yes indeed, they do exist.  I was amazed to see such palm trees on a recent trip to Ireland.  Apparently, a type by the Latin name of Trachycarpus fortunei does survive some brief periods of frost. 

Better known by the common name, Windmill Palm, it is a type of Chinese palm with a rough trunk encased by persistent leaf bases.  You have to trim off the spent leaves and leave the base of the stems along the trunk.  It grows pretty tall; up to 25 feet or so.  It has separate male and female flowers on separate plants.  (Some hermaphrodites are known, since there are fewer strict rules about things like that in the plant Kingdom. )

 Separate sexes in plants, hmmm.  This is an interesting point when thinking about winter hardiness.  In most plants, the ones with the tolerance for the coldest temperatures are the ones that have the most build up of carbohydrates and sugars during the growing season. 

  • Which plants have the best chance for carbohydrate build up? 
    • Why, those which do not have carbohydrate sinks (or drains, haha on their sugars). 
  • And what is the best carbohydrate sink? 
    • A fruit. 
  • And what do male plants not produce? 
    • Fruits.
  • And what does that make male plants?
    • Full of antifreeze producing sugary juices. They have no chance for fruits to drain off the sugars.
  • So, those plants with a male and female flowers on separate plants may have the best chance to have a horticultural variety which is much more winter hardy than those plants which all produce fruits.


Another example of this extra hardy male plant is the cultivated Kiwi plant.  Actinidia sp. produces the kiwi fruit on the female plants.  Those plants cannot survive very cold winters because all the sugars go into making those fuzzy brown fruits we like to eat. 

However, Infamous has a beautiful example of Actinidia arguta ‘Kolomikta’ which is a cloned cultivar bearing only male flowers.  It has lived through -10 degrees F. and has shown no winter damage.  Similar to the Windmill Palm, where male plants are able to survive cold temperatures.  Now that is interesting.