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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto)

By Staff | Oct 22, 2014

First impression: Silky creamy tiny flowers in the effervescent cascade typical of palms. Such a beautiful trunk with a straight growth habit, medium diameter, and a to-boot or not-to-boot option. Super size, medium green, fanlike fronds (palm leaves) that have an arch to them. This arch gives them the appearance of a pinnate and palmate shape combo.

The frond stems are very thick and unarmed (no barbs) and emerge from a rough crown shaft. A Solitary Palm that reminds me of the Florida from 1960s, when I first moved to paradise. You might also experience lots of memories and recollections looking at this palm, which used to be as numerous all over the state as orange trees once were. We have oodles of this iconic palm blooming at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Cabbage Palm, also called Sabal or Palmetto Palm, is our state tree. One of my favorite palms, it is the number one survivor in a hurricane. How appropriate to be on all our state seals and important papers — what a celeb!

Botanists now know palms are not really related to trees, but more closely linked to the grass family. Our star has a rough shaft, which holds on to the brown fronds longer than a self-cleaning, smooth-crown shaft. Many gardeners like to prune these palms for aesthetics. Leaving these brown fronds on or off doesn’t matter to the health of the palm. Removing the green fronds from any palm prematurely will damage your palm’s nutrition intake. Palms require a certain number of green fronds (varies from species to species) to perform photosynthesis.

Hurricane cut is a term used when untrained landscapers or gardeners remove way too many fronds while trimming palms. These unskilled landscapers are trying to manage palms in a haphazard method. Educated and palm-savvy landscapers know that hurricane cutting is very bad practice of trimming palms. Ironically, this cut is terrible for hurricanes and the survival of your palms. Leaving the correct amount of green fronds on your palms ensures a higher survival rate after strong winds.

Our star is a native plant and was a wonderful resource for our ancestor’s way before supermarkets and stores. It would sustain them with fuel, medicine, shelter, baskets, food, and clothing. This beauty is great as a specimen or grouped in a formal or nonformal venue. Considered a medium palm whose mature height can be 50 feet, it is perfect for our temperatures of dry climates and coastal areas. Plant in partial shade to full sun in a well-drained area.

Its small black berries which form after the flowers are important to all wildlife. I have many a day watched migrating birds consume these berries to fortify them for their long journey home. Mother Nature thinks of everything!


Iconic palm for Florida

Does well in sandy soil

Likes full sun

Easy to maintain/prune

Easily propagated by seeds or transplant

Flowering epiphytes can be attached in boots

Sustains multitudes of wildlife

Salt tolerance

Is great for tropical look in a garden

Fire resistant

Number one survivor in a hurricane

Great base for nesting boxes

Cold tolerant

Native status


Berries can be messy

Has three names (very schizophrenic)

Slow grower (ten years to form trunk)

Brown fronds forms petticoat look (I like this look but, is best in wild areas: it is a furry critter invitation)

Join the proverbial argument about to boot or not to boot?

Conclusion: Cabbage Palm what superstar! How savvy for our state to choose this gorgeous specimen that can survive hurricanes and sustain all forms of wildlife. Just perfect for our tropical oasis, it has many names but one special place in our hearts.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!