Sabal palmetto

Sabal palmetto (/ˈsbəl/, SAY-bəl), also known as cabbage palm,[5] cabbage palmetto,[3] sabal palm, blue palmetto,[3] Carolina palmetto,[6] common palmetto,[6] Garfield's tree, and swamp cabbage,[7] is one of 15 species of palmetto palm. It is native to the Southern United States and the West Indies.


Sabal palmetto grows up to 20 metres (65 feet) tall. Starting at half to two-thirds 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 5 millimetres (14 inch) across, produced in large compound panicles up to 2.5 m (8 ft) in radius, extending out beyond the leaves. The fruit is a black drupe about 1.3 centimetres (12 in) 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.[5]

Sabal palmetto "Lisa"

Close-up of S. palmetto 'Lisa' showing leaf character, distinct from that of wild specimens

In 1998, a new mutant form of S. palmetto was discovered in southwest Florida, and named as a cultivar, Sabal palmetto "Lisa". This cultivar has unusually thick and leathery, largely fused leaflets that give the palm a unique and appealing appearance. Over 60% of the seedlings have the same leaf characteristics as the parent plant and Sabal palmetto "Lisa" has been popularized in the nursery trade in Florida over the last 20 years and proven to be as resistant to heat, wind, cold, drought, and neglect as the common form while keeping its shape.[8]

Distribution and habitat

Sabal palmetto is native to the coastal regions of the American states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and extreme southern Texas. It is widely cultivated elsewhere in the Southeastern US.[9] It can also be found in Cuba,[10] Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas.[10][11][12]

The species is hardy to the US Department of Agriculture's zone 8, and has been reported to have some cold hardness down to 8.6 °F or −13.0 °C, 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.[13]


The approximate range of cultivation for cabbage palmettos in the US with little to no winter protection

Sabal palmetto is a popular landscape plant in subtropical climates and used for its tolerance of salt spray and 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. Most references rate the species as hardy to USDA hardiness zone 8a. Cabbage palms have excellent hurricane resistance, but are frequently overpruned. Sabal palms normally only do well in hot and humid summer climates.

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, 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.


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 are sometimes used to make heart of palm salad. Heart of palm was commonly eaten by Native Americans. However, extracting the heart kills this species of palm, because the terminal bud is the only point from which the palm can grow, so without this bud, the palm is not able to replace old leaves and eventually dies.

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.[14]

The fruit is edible raw, and the seeds can be ground into flour.[15]


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.[16]

An image of a palmetto appears on the back of South Carolina's state quarter, which was issued in 2000.

Two images of S. palmetto appear on the official great seal of the State of Florida[17] and the flag of Florida.


  1. ^ "NatureServe Explorer 2.0 – Cabbage palmetto, Sabal Palmetto".
  2. ^ Carrero, C. (2021). "Sabal palmetto". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2021: e.T87709255A87709290. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-1.RLTS.T87709255A87709290.en. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "Sabal palmetto". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  4. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  5. ^ a b Flora of North America: Sabal palmetto
  6. ^ a b Wade, Dale D.; Langdon, O. Gordon (1990). "Sabal palmetto". In Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H. (eds.). Hardwoods. Silvics of North America. Washington, D.C.: United States Forest Service (USFS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vol. 2. Retrieved 2014-03-22 – via Southern Research Station.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "A new cultivar of Sabal palmetto" (PDF). Palm Tree General Description. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  9. ^ Weakley, Alan S. (24 April 2022). "Flora of the Southeastern United States" (PDF). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium. p. 319.
  10. ^ a b Van Deelen, Timothy R. 1991. Sabal palmetto. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
  11. ^ Zona, S. (1990). "A monograph of Sabal (Arecaceae: Coryphoideae)". Aliso. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. 12 (4): 583–666. doi:10.5642/aliso.19901204.02.
  12. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  13. ^ "Real Palm Trees". Palm Tree General Description.
  14. ^ Peattie, Donald Culross. Trees You Want to Know. Whitman Publishing Company, Racine, Wisconsin, 1934. p36
  15. ^ The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Netstate, South Carolina State Flag
  17. ^ The Great Seal of the State of Florida

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