Gumbo Limbo Trees at De Soto National Memorial Damaged by Hurricane Irma

Large tree in grassy area in front of visitor center
Gumbo Limbo tree at De Soto National Memorial

NPS photo

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News Release Date: September 26, 2017

Contact: Nathan Souder, 941-792-0458 x101

Contact: Brent Everitt, 850-393-7952

Contact: Dana Soehn, 865-712-4928

National Champion Tree Showing Cracks in Trunk

Bradenton, Fla. – The national champion gumbo limbo tree (Bursera sumaruba) at De Soto National Memorial suffered significant damage from the high winds of Hurricane Irma. Arborists inspecting the tree on Thursday discovered two cracks in the trunk, creating critical stress on the tree. While cables were installed several years ago to improve the gumbo limbo’s structural integrity, they have been determined to be insufficient for the weight of the threatened portion of the tree, estimated to be 25,000 pounds.

The National Park Service has temporarily roped off a safe zone around the tree, but because of the tree’s location, this blocks the main, wheelchair accessible walkway to the visitor center. Visitors can still access the building using an alternate trail.  

“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,” said Nathan Souder, Superintendent of De Soto National Memorial. “We are gathering information from certified arborists and exploring options so that we can make an informed decision before moving forward.”

The De Soto National Memorial gumbo limbo tree was listed as an American Forests Champion Tree in 2007. At a height of 45 feet with a circumference of 195 inches, it is the national champion tree for the species, meaning it is the largest known tree of its kind in the country. Estimated to be eighty years old, this witness tree was present when the Colonial Dames of America dedicated the adjacent De Soto Trail monument in 1939 and is an important part of the park’s cultural landscape.

“Gumbo limbo trees will always have a place at De Soto National Memorial,” said Souder. A previous national champion gumbo limbo tree was lost years ago but several of its branches were planted to create new trees on the north side of the sidewalk leading to the visitor center. 

Additionally, a large gumbo limbo located at the southwest corner of the visitor center was damaged and cannot be saved. The Category 2 hurricane winds of Irma cracked and twisted the trunk, bringing down a large section of the tree. Arborists have inspected the tree and determined it will have to be removed.

De Soto National Memorial commemorates Conquistador Hernando De Soto's 1539 expedition through the Southeastern United States and tells the history of the Native American tribal societies they encountered. Learn more at or follow De Soto National Memorial on Facebook at


Last updated: September 26, 2017

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Bradenton, FL 34209


(941) 792-0458 x105

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