Cabbage Palm, Beach Botany


The story starts in Matanzas Pass Preserve when a black seed pod fell to the ground and germinated into a seedling that started a new Cabbage Palm, Sabal Palmetto. The seedling is a slow grower. It is multi stemmed with juvenile leaves at the tips. A small apical meristem, otherwise, a shoot, is in the middle of the seedling. Height is 4 to 5 ft.   It takes 10 to 15 years before a trunk appears from the ground and pushes the seedling upward to become Palmetto’s first crown. Tree height can eventually reach 80 feet.

”Y” shaped leaf bases are attached and overlap each other on the trunk. An arching petiole about 8 feet in length is attached to a leaf base. At the tip of the petiole is a fan shaped leaf about a yard wide. The fan has about 50 leaflets 2 feet in length and 1 1/2 inch wide. Margins have white fibers. In the middle of the fan is a crease. As the trunk grows, older petioles die and break off of the leaf bases which remain attached to the trunk. Old leaf bases are sometimes referred to as ”boots.”

The entire tree is composed of fused fibers. Fibers make up vascular bundles that absorb water and nutrients that are sent to the crown of new leaves for photosynthesis. At the top of the trunk is an apical meristem or shoot which causes the tree to grow.

Palmetto’s blooming occurs in the spring. Thousands of tiny flowers grow from the leaf axils. Flower’s corolla has three greenish white petals and three white stamens. Flower diameter is about ¼ inch. The inflorescence is a panicle.  Fruit is a black seed pod. A three petal flower indicates that Palmetto is a monocot. All the palms are monocots.


Dorothy Rodwell

Photo by James Rodwell