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Sabal palmetto - Palmpedia

Sabal palmetto

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Two headed Sabal palmetto, Palm Bay Fl.
Sabal (SAY-bal)
palmetto (pahl-MEHT-oh)
Sabal palmetto in foreground and background.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Sabal (SAY-bal)
palmetto (pahl-MEHT-oh)
Sabal jamesiana,Inodes schwarzii,Corypha palmetto
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Palmate
Height: 80 ft
Trunk diameter: 12-24 inches
Survivability index
Common names
cabbage palm

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Habitat and distribution

Sabal palms are New World plants, this species is found in the Bahamas and Cuba, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. It thrives in a variety of settings including beaches, forests and swamps. In their natural range they are considered weedy as they readily propagate throughout the landscape, usually assisted by birds.


It is a large robust palm with a single unbranching trunk that grows to about 50 ft (15.2 m) but may occassionally reach heights of 70 ft (21.3 m). The crown is relatively small being 12-18 ft (3.7-5.5 m) in diameter. Like many palms the crown is typically wider when grown in shade and more compact when grown in full sun. The large leaves have a dull finish and are a medium green, sometimes yellow-green, in color depending on the individual and situation. Each leaf is up to 12 ft (3.7 m) long overall including the spineless petioles (leaf stems) which measure about 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m) in length. They are up to 6 ft (1.8 m) in width with drooping leaf segments about 3 ft (0.9 m) long and 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) wide. These segments are split to about half the width of the leaf and typically slough off tan fibers at the edges. Cabbage palm leaves are costapalmate, meaning that the leaflets are arranged on the stem in a pattern that is midway between palmate (leaflets arranged like the fingers on the palm of your hand) and pinnate (feather shaped). (floridata.com)

S. palmetto grows to a height of 10 – 25 m (32-82 feet), with a stem diameter of approximately 30 – 60 cm (12-24 inches). Leaves may measure up to 3 m (9.8 feet) in length. Fruits are small, measuring approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch) in width. Root systems are deeply penetrating, and may reach depths of 4.6 – 6.1 m (15-20 feet) (Duncan and Duncan 1988). Stem shape is uniform from the ground to the crown. Leaf bases, also known as boots, tend to slough off the tree as they dry, giving the trunk a smooth appearance (Duncan and Duncan 1988; Walker 1990). Leaves are palmate with no spines, and may measure 3 m (9.8 feet) in length, each with a prominent midrib. Flowers are cream colored and droop in clusters from the crown. Fruits are black and fleshy with a single seed (Olson et al. 1974). They may measure 8 mm (1/3 inch) in width. Root systems are short and bulbous, penetrating the soil to depths of 4.6 – 6.1 m (15-20 feet). (Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft. Pierce) Editing by edric.


Optimum growth occurs in humid subtropical to warm temperate climates where average rainfall is 100 – 163 cm (39-64 inches), and average maximum/minimum temperatures range from –4 - 36° C (25-97 ° F). Northern growth is limited by low winter temperatures. (Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft. Pierce)

Preferred soil type for S. palmetto is calcium rich, and neutral to alkaline in nature. Cabbage palms prefer poorly drained soils, and often grow at the edge of freshwater and brackish wetlands. This species tolerates flooding (Alexander 1955).

Comments and Curiosities

It is the state tree of South Carolina and Florida.

Reproduction: S. palmetto flowers from April through August, depending upon latitude. S. palmetto is insect pollinated. Fruit develops throughout the fall, and ripens in winter. Birds and small mammals that eat the fruit of this tree aid in seed dispersal.

Embryology: Fresh fallen seeds are buoyant, and are salt resistant, they require no pretreatment in order to break dormancy. Germination is hastened by planting seeds in moist sand at 3 ° C (38° F) for 30 days. Optimum planting depth is 1.5 – 3 cm (0.5 – 1 inch) in light soil. Seed survival is reported to be low due to consumption by animals. Wade and Langdon (1990) reported that as little as 9% of 620,000 seeds produced per acre survived frugivory. (Smithsonian Marine Station at Ft. Pierce)

First year growth consists of the primary root, one fully expanded leaf, and a rhizomatous stem (Wade and Langdon 1990).

Salinity: Sabal palmetto is highly tolerant of salt spray, and inundation by brackish water. Seeds of this species are also salt resistant (Wade and Langdon 1990).

Physical Tolerances: St. John (1973) listed Sabal palmetto as one of the most insect resistant trees in southern Florida. Cabbage palms are also highly resistant to infection by pathogens (Wade and Langdon 1990).

This is a tillering palm, it exhibits saxophone style root growth (it has a heel), keep top third of heel above soil elevation!

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos, edric.

Special thanks to palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos, edric.

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