Palms of Boca Raton: Sabal palmetto
I've lived in Palm Beach County, Florida, for almost ten years now. But I don't really know very much about palm trees. I mean, I can tell a sabal palmetto from a saw palmetto, and a royal palm from a Christmas palm, but that's really about the limit of my knowledge. So I've decided to start a project of random photo safaris to take pictures of palm trees. The project may teach me something about photography, and it's sure to improve my knowledge of palm trees! For this inaugural post, though, rather than use all new photos, I'm going to have to raid my photo files. It takes a long time to build up enough photos to really show the full profile of a tree: you have to get it in flower, in fruit, young trees and old. It's also nice to have more than just the plant itself to provide visual interest—the moon, some clouds, a nice waterway—something to show how the tree works in the environment. Some basic information to begin with: Palms are in the family Arecaceae and they come in a fairly wide array of forms and growth habits:
- Tall and single-trunked, like the cabbage palm (the subject of today's post)
- Shorter and multi-trunked, like the Areca palm (also known as Yellow Butterfly Palm, but no one really calls it that. One of the most common landscape palms in the county, it's an introduced species that is actually native to Madagascar and the adjacent islands: Dypsis lutescens. See, common names have nothing to do with taxonomic names; the palm family is named Arecaceae, you'd think the Areca palm would be in the genus Areca, right? Wrong.)
- Recumbent or even belowground trunks, like the saw palmetto and the sabal minor palm.
15.031 State tree.-- (1) The sabal palmetto palm, which is also known as the cabbage palm, and sometimes as the cabbage palmetto, a tree native to Florida, is hereby designated as the Florida state tree. (2) Said state tree being now extensively used for commercial purposes, the provisions of this section shall not be construed to limit in any manner said use thereof in business, industry, commerce, for food, or for any other commercial purposes. History.--ss. 1, 2, ch. 28126, 1953.It doesn't have bark, its stems are fibrous, not woody, and it's more closely related to grasses than it is to trees. Nevertheless, it's tall, and grows relatively straight, with a crown at the top, so, it must be a tree, right? Good enough for government work. Some botanical description from Wunderlin & Hansen:
Leaf blades triangular, held in a V with a downward curve, the costa extending fully or nearly the length of the undivided portion of the blade, the hastula acute to attenuate, the margin with long free fibers. Stem usually erect, to 20 m tall; leaf blades with the hastula (4)10–12 cm long; fruit 9–10 (12) mm in diameter.Got that? Good. Now explain it to me. Well, I guess I'll take a crack at it myself. First of all, what's a costa? I think of it as a rib, and so I assume in botanical circles it means the rib of the leaf; in this case, of the frond. So far so good. Now, the hastula? That's a little structure on some palms where the petiole (the "stem" of the frond) meet the leaflets (what most people would call the "leaves" of the frond):
It is unusual for a tropical genus to have a species such as this, which is almost restricted to the U.S., the northern part of the generic range.Just goes to show how close Florida is to the tropics, and how diverse even "tropical" genera can be, that it grows mainly outside the tropics. It's even the state tree of South Carolina! Here is a young Sabal palmetto plant on the side of my house: hearts of palm in it. It was pretty tasty. But what made it really cool was that they videotaped the source of the food. They had to take out a couple of palm trees to clear some land on their ranch, and they decided to make sure they didn't waste the tree. They chainsawed it down, removed the crown, and hacked away to get at the tender growing stem, and then they cooked it up right proper. Yum! But it's not a very good idea to go around taking out cabbage palms unless you really need to. For one thing, according to Osorio, it's illegal in Florida to harvest cabbage palms for their hearts now, although I've not been able to verify this. Even if it's not illegal, it's certainly an expensive salad! For another, this is one of the most useful trees to wildlife, not just for food, but for shelter. The numerous "boots" of the tree provide roosting places for birds: roosting in cabbage palms, although I have yet to see this for myself... They also make pleasing sights in natural areas: