Common Names: cabbage palm, palmetto
Family: Arecacea/Palmae (palm Family)
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Palm Attracts Birds Drought Tolerant Has evergreen foliage Has
Unusual or Interesting Foliage
Because of its beauty and versatility the cabbage palm is at the top
of my list of favorite palms. It is a large robust palm with a
single unbranching trunk that grows to about 50 ft (15.2 m) but may
occassionally reach heights of 70 ft (21.3 m). The crown is
relatively small being 12-18 ft (3.7-5.5 m) in diameter. Like many
palms the crown is typically wider when grown in shade and more
compact when grown in full sun.
The large leaves have a dull finish and are a medium green,
sometimes yellow-green, in color depending on the individual and
situation. Each leaf is up to 12 ft (3.7 m) long overall including
the spineless petioles (leaf stems) which measure about 5-6 ft
(1.5-1.8 m) in length. They are up to 6 ft (1.8 m) in width with
drooping leaf segments about 3 ft (0.9 m) long and 2-3 in (5.1-7.6
cm) wide. These segments are split to about half the width of the
leaf and typically slough off tan fibers at the edges. Cabbage palm
leaves are said to be costapalmate meaning that the leaflets are
arranged on the stem in a pattern that is midway between palmate
(leaflets arranged like the fingers on the palm of your hand) and
pinnate (feather shaped).
Unlike the royal palm, the cabbage palm has no crownshaft. Leaves
emerge directly from the trunk which is often covered with old leaf
stem bases that are arranged in an interesting criss-cross pattern.
Depending on the individual these may persist to the ground even in
very old palms. Other trees in the same vicinity may shed their leaf
attachments or "boots" as they are sometimes called very early in
life revealing a rough fibrous brown trunk. Eventually the trunk
will age to gray and the surface will become smooth.
Organic debris often collects in these leaf bases. It is not
uncommon to see a cabbage palmetto transformed into a hanging garden
of ferns and other species. The leaf attachment planters play host
to many other interesting species like orchids, ball moss (Tillandsia
recurvata), resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) and others
including the fascinatingly fatal strangler fig (Ficus aurea).
cabbage palmetto inflorescence
The cabbage palm's creamy white flowers are arranged on a long
branched inflorescence that appears in summer.
In mid-summer the cabbage palm bears creamy white flowers on a long
branched inflorescence that is held completely within the crown.
Flowers are followed in late fall or early winter by black spherical
fruit that is about one third of an inch in diameter. Inside is a
shiney brown seed that is about one quarter of an inch in diameter.
Squirrels, raccoon and many other species of mammal and bird enjoy
visiting the cabbage palm for dinner feasts of fruit and seed.
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. It is often planted all along the Gulf Coast. Cabbage palm
occurs along beaches, sandy bay and estuary shores. It inhabits the
margins of tidal flats and marshlands where it often crowds into
extensive groves. It's also encountered inland in hardwood hammocks
and pine flatwoods.
Sabal palmetto is very salt and drought tolerant and can be used in
beachside plantings. It is able to adapt to most types of soil.
Cabbage palms are easy to transplant if they have at least six feet
of trunk. Commercially the palmetto is dug from the wild and all of
the leaves are cut from the trunk (care is taken not to damage the
tender bud). All of the roots are cut back as well (damaged sabal
die anyway and new ones grow directly from the trunk). A new
planting of sabals looks like a garden of telephone poles from a
distance! If the telephone poles are kept watered they will soon put
forth new roots and leaves within a few months. It's recommended
that new trees be staked or otherwise supported until established -
especially in windy beachfront situations.
Light: Full sunlight to some shade. Trunk development is suppressed
in heavily shaded specimens.
Moisture: Very adaptable. Average moisture will do. Tolerates
drought, standing water and brackish water.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-10. This is a hardy frost tolerant palm that
can survive many degrees below freezing.
Propagation: Collect seeds from trees in late fall and early winter.
Plant the seeds any time, they will generate over a period of time
from 2 to 12 months. Mature specimens are commercially obtained from
natural plantings. Transplanting specimens without trunks is seldom
Two cabbage palmettos shade a bayside picnic area while framing
Tampa Bay's Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
The cabbage palm is used as an ornamental and street tree, well
adapted for group, specimen or avenue plantings. This palm is very
salt tolerant and can be grown on the beach or directly at the
water's edge of bays and inlets. The state of Florida has been
planting cabbage palmettos by the hundreds along the state's
freeways. The palm groves refresh the eye and absorb the road noise
providing a calming influence for both motorists and the
environment. Cabbage palm is very low maintenance and drought
resistant making if a perfect choice for urban plantings. Combine it
with pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) or Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum
dactyloides) for a tropical effect - especially when underplanted
with crinums or hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) for color. To
create wildlife friendly habitat combine cabbage palms with food
plants like wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), yaupon holly (Ilex
vomitoria), dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) and rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium
Young potted cabbage palms will take up to ten years before they
begin to form a trunk. They grow slowly these first years as root
system and the crown forms. Once the trunk does begin to develop the
growth rate increases somewhat. The growth rate of cabbage palm can
be significantly increased with regular watering and feeding.
Dead leaves may persist on the trunk, hanging from the crown to
form a "skirt". In urban situations it is recommended that these be
removed, as they create shelter for rats and other undesirable
state flags of Florida and South Carolina
The palmetto palm is proudly presented on both the South Carolina
(left) and the Florida state flags (right). Florida's official state
tree appears on the flag within the great seal which is shown in
Cabbage palm is the state tree of Florida and is displayed on the
state flag of South Carolina whose nickname is the "Palmetto State".
The durable trunks are sometimes used for wharf pilings, docks and
poles. Brushes and brooms can be made from young leaves, and the
large fan shaped leaves have been used by the Seminole Indians in
Florida as thatch for traditional pavilions, called chickees.
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 is lethal to the palm. We 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