What is the state tree of Florida?

by Kathy Warner

Can you name the state tree of Florida?My Nassau Sun Logo The orange tree? Not a chance. Live oak? No way. The Sabal palmetto, also known as the cabbage palm, Sabal palm and cabbage palmetto, was designated the state tree of Florida in 1953. It appears within the great seal on the state flag of Florida, and is also the state tree of South Carolina, known as the "Palmetto State." The most widely distributed tree in Florida, it grows naturally in almost any soil near the coasts, on tidal flats, islands, or elevated places in marshes, beach swales, and in moist to wet hardwood hammocks. It is found from southeastern North Carolina to Southern Florida, and also on the Bahamian islands.

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 Sabal palm is even used in cooking. 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, however, is lethal to the palm. Please do not purchase or eat hearts of palm for two reasons: 1) they're not that tasty, having merely a bland crunchiness to recommend them; and 2) most commercial canned products are obtained from wild stands of species in Mexico and Central America, decimating those populations.

Green fronds are the palms' source of nutrients. Cutting green fronds stunts growth, invites disease, and reduces the palm's natural resilience to high winds. Harsh pruning takes away food and shelter from songbirds, woodpeckers, butterflies, honey bees, tree frogs, bats, anoles (a type of lizard), squirrels, and other wildlife. Over-pruned palms develop weakened trunks, which will eventually cause them to break off and die. Work boots with climbing spikes leave wounds in the trunk, leaving the palms prone to disease.

Recycle! Brown fronds provide unique habitat for tree frogs and bats, which in turn provide chemical-free mosquito control. Use fallen palm fronds as mulch or a brush pile for wildlife. Palm berries are critical sources of highly nutritious food for many birds and other wildlife. Plant palms where berries and sprouts won't be a problem. The leaf bases of palms, called "boots," are important habitat for other plants, including many beautiful rare and endangered ferns.

Sabal palm is about as hurricane-proof as a tree can be. It will survive after hurricanes have blown over the oaks and maples, and snapped pines trees in two. Enjoy this magnificent, sturdy and useful native, Florida's state tree!

 Sabal Palm needs no pruning

This sabal palm needs no pruning.


Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in year one of their accreditation and 50 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years to maintain their certification.

Nassau County master gardeners serve under the direction of Rebecca L. Jordi, UF/IFAS Nassau County Horticultural Extension Agent. For information on the master gardener program and application requirements, contact Jordi at 548-1116 or rljordi@ufl.edu.



Kathy Warner

Kathy Warner is an Amelia Island resident and an active master gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.