Saving Florida's Symbol: Take Care of Our Sabal Palm
|Properly pruned sabal palm.|
It's not a well-known fact, but this most regal name for the Sabal palm (pronounced Sāʼbăl) (Sabal palmetto) originated with Native Americans, perhaps on seeing their first palm trees. With that being the case, it bodes for us to pay closer attention to the heritage of our state symbol.
These nobles began life in the Unite States in our southeastern region after having wandered north from the Caribbean area where they can thrive here today—with the proper care. They are also commonly called Cabbage, Palmetto or Hat palms, with 16 species spread across northeastern Mexico to Florida.
They find a comfortable habitat in open areas, where the dunes flow and flats tidal, savannas breeze, occasionally swamp shades and even—salt marshes!
How many of us know that the State of Florida has honored this tree by designating it as the official state tree—that happened in 1953—more than likely because it's all over the state. Then things finally came to a head, in 1970, when the Florida legislature declared the Sabal needed to replace the cocoa palm on the state seal.
Growing in some of the worst soil is no problem for the Sabal and it's known for its multi-tasking: food, medicine, and landscaping. Being a very big favorite with landscapers has promoted its availability through a host of commercial resources.
Floridians have a duty to the State Symbol. Let's keep it around as long as we can.
Just so everyone knows:
|Once the growing tip dies or is trimmed |
away, the tree cannot grow back.
Bacteria are killing our favorite palm, carried by a vomiting bug. What a disgusting thought! Some of our horticulturists believe it was brought over from Texas. Others believe it arrived on another type of palm.
As of this time, there is no antidote for the horrible problem and the bad news is you can't tell it's there just by looking. If you have a regular landscape service, check with them to see if they can put a test on your Sabal to make sure it's healthy—especially if you have several. Perhaps you can have one tree destroyed before it has hit all the others.
Lastly, it's a good idea to inject your palms with antibiotics. Your nursery can give you instructions, depending on its age and dimensions.
PRUNING – DON'T REMOVE GREEN FRONDS!
The fronds are what feed the tree. Even the large brown frond bases need to remain. Apparently, there are specific methods for trimming these palms or we'll find another way to lose them.
Pruning that leaves an 11 to 1 profile (on the clock) will kill them! The standard is to leave a 9 to 3 outline. Keep the fronds, as many as possible. They supply the tree with nutrients. Did we say that before? If so, it's worth saying again: Leave as many fronds as possible.
LADDERS, NOT SPIKES!
One more thing, if you need to get up into the tree, please do use a ladder. A palm does not have the capacity for self-healing, as do other trees, so that if you wear spikes to climb these palms, you are doing permanent damage! Don't do that either!
REMOVING BROWN FRONDS
One more time: use a ladder and get up into the canopy to remove them. Be sure to keep the lower part of the frond (where it widens) in place. This will become part of the tree's structure—they are important to the canopy's support when high winds occur.
Removing the dead frond stems (horticulturists call them "boots" as they form around the trunk, under the crown) will also kill them! Don't do that! They form the support for the crown. If your goal is to remove the flowers, refrain from removing the fronds. Use a pole-saw with a snap-head adjustment that allows you to bypass the fronds, reach in there and take out the flowers or fruit you want to remove.
|This palm is somewhat over-pruned.|
1. Prune correctly (or hire a professional)
2. Watch for disease
3. Don't climb with spikes
With all this in mind, you can help save Florida's state symbol and keep the beautiful Sabal palm as a specimen star in your landscape.
Guest post written by Pat Hogan, a landscaping enthusiast developing resourceful websites about trees in Orlando and trees in Miami.