Everything You Need to Know About the Sabal Palm
The Sabal Palm is a species of tree that every Floridian is familiar with. Here, we provide the rundown on everything you need to know about this tree and how to take care of it.
Scientific name: Sabal Palmetto
Also known as: Cabbage palm, cabbage palmetto, Carolina palmetto
Size: Averages about 45 feet tall, but can grow taller in the wild
Lifespan: Dating Sabal palms is more difficult than other species because they do not have traditional growth rings. It is believed that they can live for as many as 200 to 300 years.
Characteristics: The Sabal Palm is a medium-sized, slow-growing palm tree. It has a rough, fibrous trunk that is usually straight, but can also grow in a bent shape. It is topped with a dense crown of palm fronds that are fan-shaped and can be up to five feet long. After fronds die and fall off, the frond bases, known as boots, form a spiked, crisscross pattern on the trunk. As a Sabal Palm grows and ages it’s appearance changes. Young, potted Sabal palms can take 10 years to form a trunk. Older Sabal Palms lose their boots to reveal a smooth, grey bark.
Blooming period: May-August
Habitat: The Sabal Palm grows in river banks, marsh lands, sand dunes, and hammocks. It is salt tolerant and frost tolerant.
Location: All of Florida and throughout coastal areas of the Southeast, usually found within 12 miles of the coast. Also native to Cuba and the Bahamas.
What you should know: Sabal palms are easy to grow, easy to maintain, easy to transplant and are resistant to fire, flood and hurricane damage. They are the most prevalent species of palm tree found in Florida. They do not have crown shafts, so the fronds grow directly from the trunk.
Uses: Sabal Palms are a staple tree for not only residential yards, but are also a mainstay to decorate parking islands, store fronts, community entrances, and roadways. Their durable trunks are sometimes used for wharf piling, docks and poles. The terminal bud, or new growth, of a Sabal Palm can be harvested as food that is similar in taste and texture to cabbage. It is sometimes known as heart of palm and is considered a delicacy for salads. Removing the terminal bud can kill the tree because it is the only point from which it can grow.
When you should trim: Sabal palms that are not trimmed regularly can become engulfed in dead palm fronds, which become a favorite nesting place for a host of pests such as rats and roaches. To avoid this, have your Sabal Palms trimmed annually.
History: Native Americans used Sabal palms for food and as a building material. In 1776 the walls of a South Carolina fort were made from Sabal Palm trunks that warded off British cannonballs.
State tree: Florida and South Carolina. The Sabal Palm was added to the state seal of Florida in 1970, replacing the coconut palm found just in South Florida.
Fun fact: There are at least two theories about how the term “boot” came to be to refer to frond bases. One is that Spanish conquistadors who used them as shoe horns coined the term boot. Another is that soldiers in the U.S. Army hung their boots on them during the Seminole War to keep snakes and other critters out of them at night.