Category: Fruit & Nut Trees
The Sabal palmetto is also called the cabbage palmetto, palmetto, cabbage palm, common palmetto, Carolina palmetto and sabal palm. Its species name is Sabal palmetto. It is part of the Aracacea family, also called the palmae or palm family. It is part of the liliopsida class and arecidae subclass.
The name sabal palm comes from the immature leaves or heart that tastes like cabbage.
About the Species
The tree is native to the southern United States. These plants can grow up to USDA zone 8B. They are cold hardy to 15 F. They live in areas with 40 to 60 inches of rain per year, barring irrigation.
It prefers alkaline soils. In the northern part of its range, they tend to be found on coastal dunes. In the southern part of its range, it is usually found along river flood plains.
Physical Characteristics of the Sabal Palmetto
The sabal palm has fan shaped leaves with three foot long blades. It has three to six foot long petioles. They have a full, round canopy. They grow up to fifty feet tall and up to a foot and a half across at the trunk.
The leaves are green to yellow green. It has no crownshaft like the royal palm.
They can tolerate salt on their foliage but not salt water on their roots. Sabal palms need full sun. They do not tolerate shade.
They produce inflorescences in the late spring that contain thousands of small white flowers to attract bees. These flowers when fertilized develop into black fruits. The sabal palm’s fruit are consumed by raccoons and other species that spread the palm’s seeds in their feces.
The seeds can germinate in as little as three weeks when placed in moist soil with 85 F to 95F temperatures.
The seedlings look like grass. However, they add leafs and leaf segments as they grow.
They can take up to fifteen years to develop a clearly defined trunk.
Leaf bases called boots may be kept as the tree grows, but this doesn’t happen with all sabal palms. Orchids, ferns and moss often start growing in the leaf bases of those that do.
Sabal Palms in Gardening
These drought tolerant palms are popular for beech side plantings.
Sabal palms grow root masses up to six feet across. Cut roots don’t branch and create new tips but instead die. Cut roots are replaced by new roots at the trunk that radiate outward. It can take up to a year for the palm to grow new roots.
Trunkless roots don’t have the ability to grow new roots, so they shouldn’t be transplanted.
Palms shorter than ten feet tall don’t contain enough water to survive transplanting until they have grown new roots; this is why sabal palmettos are usually transplanted as adults at least six feet tall. Those transplanted with all their leaves removed actually improves survival rates because they lose less moisture through a dramatically trimmed crown.
Sabal palms should be transplanted at the same depth as that from which they were removed. Otherwise the roots will suffocate, killing the plant.
Illnesses of the Sabal Palm
Vitamin K deficiency can be measured by the reduction of leaves in the canopy. The oldest leaves will start showing yellow spots before the tips start to discolor and die. When the palm starts to show discolored leaves, don’t immediately remove them. Let the palm extract vitamin K from the oldest leaves to newer growth. Removing the discolored leaves denies the plant access to the nutrients still in the discolored leaves, worsening its deficiency. Wait until the leaves are dead and brittle, though they will likely fall off on their own.
Magnesium deficiency can also strike sabal palms. This causes yellow bands around the edge of old leaves, while the center remains green. This usually occurs when someone uses fertilizer with too much potassium or nitrogen relative to the magnesium content.
The sabal palm is consumed by the palmetto weevil. Its species name is Rhynchophorus cruentatus. The pest burrows into the base of the leave and lays its eggs. The hatched larva will dig into the crown stem.
Sabal palms sometimes slough their bark, but the cause of this isn’t known. If too much bark is lost, the damage can allow fungus or parasites to enter the trunk.