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Sabal palmetto, also known as cabbage-palm,[3] palmetto, cabbage palmetto,[1] blue palmetto,[1] Carolina palmetto,[4] common palmetto,[4] swamp cabbage[5] and sabal palm, is one of 15 species of palmetto palm. It is native to the southernmost lowlands and coastal areas of the southern United States, as well as Cuba,[6] the Turks & Caicos Islands, and The Bahamas.[6][7][8]

Sabal palmetto in habitat, Florida

Secure (NatureServe)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Arecales
Family: Arecaceae
Genus: Sabal
Species: S. palmetto
Binomial name
Sabal palmetto
(Walt.) Lodd.
Sabal palmetto from von Martius' "Historia naturalis palmarum"

In the United States the native range of Sabal palmetto is the coastal plain of the lower East Coast from southeast North Carolina southward to Florida and west along the Gulf Coastal plain to Texas.



Sabal palmetto grows up to 65 feet or 20 metres. Starting at ½ to ⅔ the height the tree develops into a rounded, costapalmate fan of numerous leaflets. A costapalmate leaf has a definite costa (midrib) unlike the typical palmate or fan leaf, but the leaflets are arranged radially like in a palmate leaf. All costapalmate leaves are about 0.20 inches or 5.1 millimetres across, produced in large compound panicles up to 8.2 feet or 2.5 metres in radius, extending out beyond the leaves. The fruit is a black drupe about .5 inches or 1.3 centimetres long containing a single seed. It is extremely salt-tolerant and is often seen growing near both the Atlantic Ocean coast and the Gulf of Mexico coast.[3]

Sabal palmetto is hardy to USDA zone 8, and has been reported to have some cold hardness down to −13 °C or 8.6 °F, but needs hot and humid summers to grow well. Maintenance of the Cabbage Palm tree is very easy and very adaptable. The cabbage palmetto is known to tolerate drought, standing water and brackish water. Even though this palm is drought-tolerant, it thrives on regular light watering and regular feeding. It is highly tolerant of salt winds, but not saltwater flooding.[9]

Historical backgroundEdit

The cabbage-like terminal bud has been eaten as hearts of palm. The bristles on the sheaths of young leaves have been made into scrubbing brushes. The trunks have been used as wharf piles. On June 28, 1776, Charleston patriots under William Moultrie made a fort of palmetto trunks and from it defended successfully against the British in the Revolutionary War.[10]

Cultivation and usesEdit

Sabal palmetto is a popular landscape plant in subtropical climates and used for its tolerance of salt spray, drought, and is moderately cold hardy. Because of their relatively long establishment period and prevalence on southern ranchlands, few, if any are grown from seed in nurseries. Instead, established plants are dug in the wild with small rootballs since virtually all the severed roots die and must be replaced by new roots in the new location. Most leaves are removed at this time to reduce transpiration. It is the state tree of South Carolina and Florida. Most references rate the species as hardy to USDA hardiness zone 8a. Cabbage palms have excellent hurricane resistance, but are frequently over-pruned for a variety of reasons. Sabal palms normally only do well in hot and humid summer climates.

The growing heart of the new fronds, also known as the terminal bud, gives the tree its "cabbage" name, since this is extracted as a food and tastes like other undifferentiated plant meristem tissue, such as the heart of a cabbage or artichoke. It is one of several palm species that is sometimes used to make heart of palm salad. Heart of palm was commonly eaten by Aboriginal Americans. However, extracting the heart will kill this species of palm, because the terminal bud is the only point from which the palm can grow and without this bud the palm will not be able to replace old leaves and will eventually die.

The cabbage palm is remarkably resistant to fire, floods, coastal conditions, cold, high winds and drought. Despite this, recent mortality has been caused by Texas phoenix palm decline (TPPD) a phytoplasma currently found on the west coast of Florida.

Sabal palmetto trunks appear in two different conditions, which can be confusing (see photo). When leaves die, the leaf bases typically persist for a while, creating a spiky, "basketweave" effect. These remnant leaf bases are called "bootjacks" or "boots", for short. The name stems from the "Y" shape that was reminiscent of devices used to aid individuals in removing boots. Transplanted palms are sometimes deliberately shorn of these bootjacks. Taller specimens are more likely to have lost their bootjacks and appear relatively smooth and columnar. The loss of bootjacks is a natural, if poorly understood, phenomenon as the palm does not create a leaf abscission zone so the loss of the leaf bases results from some other physical or biological process.

Sabal 'Lisa'Edit

Sabal 'Lisa' in Fort Myers, Florida

Recently, a new mutant form of Sabal palmetto has been discovered in South West Florida, and named as a cultivar Sabal palmetto 'Lisa'. The difference between the 'Lisa' and the wild-type Sabal palmetto is in the form of the leaf. The 'Lisa' has leaves that are costapalmate, acute, not pendulous, not filamentose, rigid, not strongly divided, cupped, and slightly undulating. This mutation of Sabal palmetto is beginning to be seen in the nursery trade, as it is just as hardy to cold, salt, drought, fire and wind as the wild type of the species, but looks different. Seeds from Sabal palmetto 'Lisa' have a 68% chance of becoming true to type, the other 32% develop as the wild type.[11]

Symbolic useEdit

Flag of South Carolina
Seal of Florida

The sabal palmetto is the official state tree of both Florida and South Carolina (the latter is nicknamed "The Palmetto State").

The annual football rivalry game between Clemson and South Carolina is known as the "Palmetto Bowl".

A silhouette of a palmetto (S. palmetto) appears on the official flag of the US State of South Carolina.[12]

Two images of the Sabal palmetto appear on the official great seal of the US State of Florida.[13]


Sabal palmetto shows remarkable tolerance of salt, even being able to grow where washed by sea water at high tide. The immature palm in the forefront still has its "bootjacks", while the palm to the far right has shed them. Virginia Beach, Virginia 
Sabal palmetto growing near the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia 
Up close shot of Sabal 'Lisa' showing leaf character, distinct from that of wild-type Sabal palmetto 
Palm tree in the Canaveral National Seashore 

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c "Sabal palmetto". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  2. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. ^ a b Flora of North America: Sabal palmetto
  4. ^ a b Wade, Dale D.; Langdon, O. Gordon (1990). "Sabal palmetto". In Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H. Hardwoods. Silvics of North America. Washington, D.C.: United States Forest Service (USFS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2. Retrieved 2014-03-22 – via Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry ( 
  5. ^ James M. Stephens (1994). "Cabbage, Swamp — Sabal palmetto (Walt.) Lodd ex Schult. & Schult.f., Fact Sheet HS-571" (PDF). University of Florida, Florida Cooperative Extension Service. 
  6. ^ a b Van Deelen, Timothy R. 1991. Sabal palmetto. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
  7. ^ Zona, S. (1990). "A monograph of Sabal (Arecaceae: Coryphoideae)". Aliso. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 12: 583–666. 
  8. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  9. ^ "Real Palm Trees". Palm Tree General Description. 
  10. ^ Peattie, Donald Culross. Trees You Want to Know. Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin, 1934. p36
  11. ^ "A new cultivar of Sabal palmetto" (PDF). Palm Tree General Description. 
  12. ^ Netstate, South Carolina State Flag
  13. ^ The Great Seal of the State of Florida

External linksEdit