Hurricane

Irma cracked its trunk. Can the largest gumbo limbo tree in the U.S. be saved?

The 80-year-old national champion gumbo limbo tree at De Soto National Memorial was damaged by Hurricane Irma. National Park Service officials are waiting for recommendations from arborists on its fate.
The 80-year-old national champion gumbo limbo tree at De Soto National Memorial was damaged by Hurricane Irma. National Park Service officials are waiting for recommendations from arborists on its fate.

The largest known gumbo limbo tree in the United States sustained damage due to Hurricane Irma.

None of the limbs fell from the 80-year-old Bursera sumaruba as Irma swept through the area as a Category 2 storm, but arborists found two new cracks on its trunk on Sept. 21.

In 2007 this tree was given the title of an American Forests Champion Tree, which is a designation for the biggest of its species in the country. It is 45 feet tall, about 16 feet around its trunk and could weigh about 50,000 pounds.

“The national champion gumbo limbo is an icon in the Bradenton community and we will fight to save it if we can do so in a matter that does not negatively impact the safety of visitors or their experience,” De Soto National Memorial superintendent Nathan Souder said in a statement.

National Park Service officials are waiting for recommendations from arborists on its fate.

For three years, wire cables have been used to keep the tree upright, said lead park ranger Dan Stephens. But it wasn’t strong enough, as half of the tree is considered threatened.

Another gumbo limbo near the visitors center isn’t considered salvagable, as twists caused several cracks that threaten its future stability and the safety of visitors. Staff decided it will need to come down.

Nine gumbo limbo trees — known for their “red, flaky bark,” Stephens said — are in what’s called the “gumbo limbo grove” at the park’s main trail entrance that overlooks the Manatee River. Dan Stephens said about nine or 10 others are naturally growing throughout the park, but they aren’t as large.

All isn’t lost when such a large gumbo limbo is taken down. Branches from the previous national champion gumbo limbo were planted to create new trees, according to the park.

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