South Carolina State Tree
Cabbage Palmetto (common name)
Sabal palmetto (scientific name)
Cabbage palmetto is the most northerly and abundant of the native tree palms. Cabbage palmetto is a true palm tree, native to Florida and the Caribbean, ranging north to South Carolina and the barrier islands of North Carolina. It appears on the state flag of South Carolina, which is nicknamed "The Palmetto State." The cabbage palmetto is the state tree of South Carolina as well as of Florida, which features the tree on its state flag and Great Seal. The tree symbol on South Carolina's flag commemorates the defense of Charleston by the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan's Island. This fort served to repel a British invasion in 1776. The strength of the fort is credited to the elasticity of the palm logs against a bombardment of cannonballs.
Cabbage palmetto is an erect palm tree with an unbranched trunk. The stem diameter is typically uniform from base to crown. The crown is relatively small, approximately 12 to 18 feet (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 leaves of cabbage palmetto are up to nine feet long, fan-shaped, and spineless. Some trees shed their dead leaves while others retain them. Flowers are tiny and white, but held in large groupings that emerge below the crown of leaves. The fruit is black, spherical, and pea-sized.
Height: 33-82 feet (10-25 m)
Diameter: 12-24 inches (30-60 cm)
Bark: grayish-brown, rough
Fruit: spherical, black, pea-sized, 0.25-0.50 in (8-14 mm), contains a single seed
Leaves: 3-9 feet (1-3 m), fan-shaped
This tree has a slow growth rate and a moderate lifespan, normally living 70 to 100 years.
Cabbage palmetto grows in a variety of habitats, from pine and oak groups to coastal dunes and woodlands to brackish marshes. The climate within the natural range of cabbage palmetto is principally subtropical to warm temperate and humid. Cabbage palmetto can tolerate a broad range of soil pH, salinity, and drainage, but prefers neutral to alkaline soils characterized by near-surface or exposed calcium or limestone.
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE
Black bears, white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, bats, bobwhites, wild turkeys, ring-necked gulls, cardinals, great-tailed grackles, blue jays, and scrub jays all eat cabbage palmetto fruit.
OTHER USES AND VALUES
The terminal bud of cabbage palmetto is edible and tastes somewhat like cabbage—hence the name. Removal of the bud kills the tree, however, because the terminal bud is the only point from which the palm can grow.
Bees use the tree's pollen. It is a significant source of a strong but delicious dark-amber honey. Although cabbage palmetto is a moderately important honey plant, its greatest economic use is as an ornamental. Cabbage palmetto is desirable for horticulture in regions with warm winters. It is frequently cultivated on the Hawaiian Islands. It is salt-tolerant and good either for beach planting or as a street tree.
Cabbage palmetto wood is sea-worm resistant and splinter resistant. It has no growth rings. It is used for wharf pilings, poles, broom handles, water pipes, and ornamental tabletops. Cabbage palmetto leaves are used to make canes, scrub brushes, thatch, and baskets.
Young cabbage palmetto fronds are collected and shipped worldwide each spring for use on Palm Sunday. This tree is in flower when many other plants are not.
Cabbage palmetto flowers are insect pollinated. Fruits persist until removed by wind, rain, or birds. On the ground, cabbage palmetto seeds are eaten or stored by small mammals. Birds and mammals act as dispersal agents. Cabbage palmetto seeds are buoyant and salt resistant. Near coastal areas, water is an important means of seed dispersal as well.
Cabbage palmetto grows in a humid, subtropical to warm-temperate climate. The average maximum and minimum temperatures range from 97 to 25 degrees F (36 to -4 deg C).
This tree tolerates a wide range of soil acidities, salinities, and drainage conditions. It grows best on neutral to alkaline soils that are rich in calcium.
This tree grows throughout peninsular Florida and the Florida Keys. It grows in the coastal areas and flooded lowlands of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and in limited amounts on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
In the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and South Carolina, cabbage palmetto grows near the coast. In central Florida, it is found on flooded lowlands, inland dunes, and ridges below 100 feet (30 m). In southern Florida, cabbage palmetto is common in high and low fertile areas, tree islands, and mixed conifer-hardwood swamp communities. Elsewhere it grows in relatively dry scrub and Miami inland communities.
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U.S. Forest Service
U.S. National Arboretum
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Author: World Trade Press