Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tree Thursday - Sabal

Sabal or Cabbage Palm
Sabal palmetto

The very much maligned and abused State tree of Florida and South Carolina is not actually a tree but in the monocot family (grasses, etc.).  All palms differ from trees in their growth patterns.  Palm only growth area is the crown; palm trunks do not grow larger in diameter over time as tree trunks do.  I call them ‘maligned’ because many people fail to see the beauty of the sabal palm and because they are so inexpensive, compared to other palms, they are not considered ‘desirable’ by quite a few people.  Their low cost also lends to the abuse and lack of care they receive many times on landscaping projects.  Economically, it is hard to spend a couple (or more) of hundred dollars to protect and transplant a sabal palm when a ‘new’ one can be replanted for almost half the cost. 

Sabal palms are beautiful and very versatile.  At times, I refer to them as “plug in place” palms because they transplant so easily and they are readily available in mature sizes.  They do grow very slow but can be found in plenty in natural areas.  It’s my feeling that we should do more to protect the sabals in their natural settings and treat them with much more respect in the landscape. 

This southeastern U.S. native palm occurs near the coast, from the North Carolina barrier islands to South Carolina, to Georgia, down to the Florida Keys and then up the Gulf Coast to the northwestern Florida panhandle. Sabal palmetto is also native to Cuba and the Bahamas.  The old fort in St. Augustine was made of sabal palm trunks because of their abundance and ability to deflect cannon balls. 
Sabal palms are also called cabbage palms because the large leaf buds of immature cabbage palms are used in southern cooking to make swamp cabbage and hearts of palm salad. Removal of the bud kills the palm. I recommend that you NOT purchase nor eat hearts of palm for two reasons: 1) they're not that tasty, having only a bland crunchiness to recommend them and 2) most commercially available canned product is obtained from wild stands of Sabal species in Mexico and Central America which is decimating those populations.
In Fort Lauderdale, Sabal palms line Andrews Avenue north of Broward Boulevard and can be found in many other landscapes and most natural areas. 
Growth Rate: Slow
Salt Tolerance: High
Drought Tolerance: High
Sabals used in landscapes:


Gene Dempsey, City Forester
Environmental Services
Office - (954) 828-7704 Fax - (954) 828-7897

Think before you print!