The Saw Palmetto

by JIM DAVIS

Jim Davis is the Multi-County Extension Director for UF/IFAS Sumter County and Hernando County Extension and a Florida Master Naturalist Instructor.

The Saw Palmetto or Serenoa repens is without a doubt one of the most underutilized of landscape palms. Many homeowners select statuesque palms such as washingtonia palms, Sylvester palms, mule palms and the not so recommended queen palm. Tall palm species such as these can certainly make a statement in the landscape. However, consider adding another layer of palm diversity. The saw palmetto can grow to an average height of about five to six feet. They can grow to ten feet, but it would take a very long time for that to happen. In nature, if you see a ten-foot specimen with a long creeping trunk, chances are that is one of the oldest plants in that area. Treasure it and admire it, but do not attempt to dig them up. If you try to transplant a saw palmetto, chances are you will kill it. The first thing that you will notice on a saw palmetto is the serrated teeth on the petioles. That is a reason why it is called “Saw” palmetto.

Saw palmetto can be a tough plant. It is both cold and drought tolerant. Being a native species, pests are few and fertilization is only applied on an as-needed basis. Saw palmetto is available in a green form and a silver form. The silver saw palmetto can be found growing wild on the east coast of Florida. Silver saw palmetto is my personal favorite. I first gained an affinity for it when I worked at the world famous Breakers Hotel and Golf Resort in Palm Beach. It was a great salt tolerant plant, resilient and easy to manage. The silver foliage really brings out the vibrant colors of flowering perennials. For a burst of color, try planting it with yellow rosinweed. Add some blue, red or magenta from the many salvia species and your yard will pop with color.

Saw palmetto also looks wonderful when planted under Florida’s state tree, the cabbage palm. Mix in some purple gulf muhly grass or white fountain grass and your neighbors will be envious. Saw palmetto is an important plant for our native pollinators and the ever-important European Honeybee. Have you ever had saw palmetto honey? It is delicious. The fruit ripens from August to October and is a favorite among birds and other wildlife. When planting saw palmetto, it prefers full sun but it can take some shade. Palms establish rather slowly, so make sure you follow UF/IFAS recommendations on planting depth and irrigation.

You can find saw palmetto at your local garden center or native plant nursery. If you decide to incorporate saw palmetto in your landscape, let me give you a brief history on this unique Florida native. Florida is the biggest exporter of saw palmetto products in the United States, generating over $50 million dollars a year. Native Americans used the fruit as an aphrodisiac and used the base of leaf stalks as an alternative food source. Seminoles utilized the many parts of this plant to make baskets, brooms and used the fiber for ropes. They also used the palm leaves for fans and fish drags. These are just a few interesting historical uses of this Florida plant. How many other plants in your landscape has such an interesting history and modern economic benefit?

UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County provides solutions for your life. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.

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