Branching out: 30-foot gumbo-limbo tree makes its move

It didn’t have a name, but it sure had character.

A 37,000-pound, 30-foot Gumbo-limbo tree was the talk of the area Tuesday this week when it was gently hoisted onto a barge from a cleared lot on Marco Island’s Grapewood Court en route to the Naples Botanical Gardens.

The grand old tree had stood outside the home, which was recently torn down to make way for a new structure, for the past three decades.

It was originally planted by the parents of Eagle columnist Chris Curle. The house was later acquired by John and Marilyn Wrucke, who couldn’t accommodate the tree in their plans for a new home on the site.

Instead, they liaised with Curle, who tipped off Botanical Gardens staff about a neat acquisition.

About 20 people turned out to watch the four-hour operation that involved as many workers.

Among them, naturally, was Marilyn Wrucke who said she was pleased the Gumbo-limbo would live on in stately fashion at the Botanical Gardens.

Judy Austin of O’Donnell Landscapes, Inc., supervised the operation.

“It’s not every day we move a big tree like this, and with so many people involved,” she said. “We’ve moved many trees in our 25 years in business, but we rarely see a specimen like this able to be moved.”

Austin said prior to its barge trip, the tree had been root pruned and “pinned” with some spikes to allow it to be lifted.

During the week it was, well, in limbo, the tree’s root ball was drenched about six times a day, and fared well.

“It’s a happy tree,” Austin said.

Gumbo-limbo, according to University of Florida information, is native to the southeastern United States. It also flourishes in the West Indies, tropical Mexico and parts of South America.

It adapts to a variety of habitats, from dry to moist, and is fairly salt-tolerant. It is also considered one of the most wind-tolerant trees in south Florida and is recommended as a good, hurricane-resistant species.

The tree readily sprouts from branches stuck into the ground and is sometimes used to plant natural, living fences.

The gummy, turpentine-scented resin has been used in the West Indies for making glue, varnish, liniments, and as a coating for canoes. The aromatic sap is also used as a treatment for gout, while the leaves are brewed into a medicinal tea.

Some birds, including mockingbirds and vireos, regularly consume the deep red fruits of gumbo-limbo during the summer and fall months.

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