Gravel crunches beneath my sandals as I round the bend to where the Kapnick Brazilian Garden diverges into the Preserve. Before continuing, the tree to my right catches my eye. It is literally … peeling. And in tissue-paper thin strips that curl up at the ends like holiday ribbon, from its trunk to the tips of its branches.

What is this tree? What on earth happened to it? And is its bark supposed to be peeling? As you will surely find when you are in the Garden, there is no shortage of knowledge among our staff and volunteers.

Elizabeth Beans, Horticulture Manager, has the answers I seek, and more. It’s called a gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba, pictured above), affectionately known as the “tourist” tree, she explains. And why?

“Its peeling red bark looks like the skin of a sunburnt tourist!” Elizabeth says. “It actually photosynthesizes through its bark — with chlorophyll — and that is why it peels into a greenish color underneath.”

Elizabeth tells me that the tree’s native range extends from Southwest Florida to Costa Rica, where it is commonly used as a “living fence” because farmers can take a branch, stick it in the ground, and let it grow (Incidentally, the same phenomenon holds true for the more than 500 species and varieties of plumeria, found in the Garden’s nationally accredited collection.)

As a result of this easy planting technique, rows of gumbo limbos line the Central American country’s cattle fields. “It’s one of many sustainable things Costa Ricans do,” Elizabeth says.

The gumbo limbo is only one example of the botanical whimsy I found in the Brazil Garden. In fact, there were moments on my morning jaunt that I felt like I had stumbled into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Let me show you.

Photos: Bizarre Trees of the Kapnick Brazilian Garden
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Experience these trees and the Garden’s collections in a whole new way during Night Lights in the Garden, which runs November 29 – January 5. Tickets are on sale now.

About the Author

Jenny Fuentes is the communications coordinator at Naples Botanical Garden. She is a communications professional with experience in the nonprofit and higher education arenas. It’s the thrill of a good story that keeps her anchored to this profession.

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