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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Cabbage Palm is state tree

By Staff | Jun 8, 2016

The cabbage palm is a hurricane survivor. PHOTO BY ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

Plant Subject: Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto)

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, fan like 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 1960’s, 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.

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 closer 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 un-trained landscapers, or gardeners, remove way too many fronds while trimming palms. These unskilled landscapers are trying to manage palms in a hap hazard 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 insures 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 non formal 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

Flowering epiphytes can be attached in boots

Sustains multitudes of wildlife

Is great for tropical look in a garden

Fire resistant

Number one survivor in a hurricane

Great base for nesting boxes

Cold tolerant

Brown fronds forms petticoat look (I like this look)

Native status


Berries can be messy

Has three names (very schizophrenic)

Slow grower (10 years to form trunk)

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 your tropical oasis, it has many names, but one special place in our hearts. Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!