from southeastern Louisiana to southern South Carolina [10,19].
Occurrence in North America
Saw-palmetto usually grows as a small shrub with creeping, horizontal,
many-branched stems. Occasionally it grows as a small tree with erect
or oblique stems. As a shrub, it grows to a height of 2 to 7 feet
(0.6-2.1 m). As a tree, it may reach 20 to 25 feet (6.0-7.5 m). In its
procumbent form, saw-palmetto branches form a tangled mass, with the
root crown projecting above to support the foliage. The stem systems
run parallel to the soil surface, eventually branching beneath the
substrate to form rhizomes.
Saw-palmetto leaves are fan-shaped, evergreen and about 3 feet (1 m)
wide. The petioles are armed with sharp spines, giving saw-palmetto its
common name. The white, perfect flowers are borne on stalked panicles
that grow from the leaf axils. The fruit is a fleshy, elipsoid drupe,
which is green or yellow before ripening but becomes bluish or black as
it matures [10,15,26,32].
Serenoa repens may be confused in the field with some low-growing species of Sabal palms, but Serenoa repens petioles (leafstalks) are covered with many tiny prickles and the leaves lack the prominent extension of the petiole along some or much of the length of the leaf that is evident in Sabal. Everglade Palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) has green flowers (rather than white) and larger, stouter, usually curved orange prickles on the petiole. (Petrides 1988)
Depth range (m): 0.5 - 0.5
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Saw palmetto grows in a humid, subtropical to warm-temperate climate
. Within its range, the average annual rainfall is 39 to 64 inches
(100-163 cm). The average maximum and minimum temperatures range from
97 to 25 degrees F (36 to minus 4 deg C) .
Saw palmetto usually grows on dry, very well-drained soils [2,30], and
avoids swamps and poorly drained river terraces . Preferred soils
are "sterile"  and have very little mineral or organic content, as
typified by fine quartose sands . Soil descriptions are not
ablsolute. Saw palmetto may also grow on peaty  and poorly drained
Saw-palmetto is a common understory shrub of Southern pine flatwoods,
growing on the Miami rock ridge pinelands, the dry pineland portions of
Big Cypress National Preserve, and commercial plantations [9,35,40].
Elsewhere, it is a codominanant in hardwood- and conifer-dominated scrub
communities [4,8,26,37]. In the Everglades region, saw-palmetto is the
most common understory shrub in high hammocks and forms a characteristic
ring around cypress (Taxodium spp.) heads and burnt-over tree islands.
[11,31,37,40]. Strand, dry prairies, and southern oak (Quercus
spp.)-pine (Pinus spp.) types indicate other sites where saw-palmetto
might be common [8,35].
Common overstory associates include slash pine (Pinus elliottii), south
Florida slash pine (P. elliottii var. densa), pond pine (P. serotina),
longleaf pine (P. palustris), sand pine (P. clausa), loblolly pine (P.
taeda), and cabbage palmetto (Sabel palmetto). Understory associates
include gallberry (Ilex glabra), scrub live oak (Quercus virginiana var.
geminata), scrub oak (Q. chapmanii), myrtle oak (Q. myrtlifolia),
shrubby rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides), scrub palmetto (Sabel etonia),
scrub mint (Conradina grandiflora), blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia),
pawpaw (Asimina reticulata), scrub clover (Petalostemon feayi), ground
blueberry (Vaccinuim myrsinites), and dodder (Cassytha filiformis)
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
74 Cabbage palmetto
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
105 Tropical hardwoods
111 South Florida slash pine
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES41 Wet grasslands
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K079 Palmetto prairie
K080 Marl - everglades
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K112 Southern mixed forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
K116 Subtropical pine forest
Depth range (m): 0.5 - 0.5
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Fire Management Considerations
Saw-palmetto is well adapted to fire, making it difficult to control.
It can be held in check using fire, but it remains vigorous and recovers
[40,22]. Very short fire-rotations (1 to 3 years) perpetuate
saw-palmetto understories and kill pine seedlings on palmetto-prairies
which might otherwise support well-stocked pine stands . Summer
fires are most effective at removing saw-palmetto top-growth .
The effects of fire suppression on saw-palmetto depends on the plant
communities it occupies. Fire suppression may decrease saw-palmetto
cover in scrub communities where other understory hardwoods can overtop
it. In contrast, suppression, long rotations, and light fires cause
Southern pinelands to become overgrown with saw-palmetto .
Overgrown saw-palmetto understories constitute fire hazards, which
promote wildfires that may kill pine seedlings and saplings [8,40].
Tall saw-palmetto understories also carry wildfires into the overstory,
killing mature trees [33,36]. Saw-palmetto is the largest contributor
to understory fuels in the Florida pinelands .
Consult Ward  to predict particulate matter emmision rates from
fireline intensity and flame length for prescribed fires in the
saw-palmetto-gallberry type. Saw-palmetto foliage yields 2,150,000
calories per pound (4,800 dcCal/g) and is 34 percent ash .
To maintain fruit production for white-tailed deer, Fults 
recommends burning saw-palmetto understories every 3 to 5 years.
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
Recovery of burned saw-palmetto stands is rapid. Cover may return to
preburn levels in as little as 1 year [1,19], and plants burned in
November can sprout a fully expanded leaf by January . Generally,
winter-burned stands recover faster than summer-burned stands because of
the longer period of growth before the next winter dormancy . The
1st year after a fire, stem density can be higher than preburn levels
because of adventitious sprouting . Two or three years later, the
stand thins itself and density and crown coverage become equal to
preburn conditions .
Burning reduces flowering and fruiting , possibly by causing
saw-palmetto to exhaust its carbohydrate reserves in the regeneration
effort. Recovery of carbohydrate reserves may take a year  or
Frequent burning may favor the procumbent growth form over the erect one
This Management Project Summary provides information on prescribed fire
and postfire response of plant community species including saw-palmetto:
Fire effects on 3 subtropical invasive plants in Florida and the
CaribbeanÂ-Natal grass, common bamboo, and white leadtree
Plant Response to Fire
Saw-palmetto responds to fire by resprouting immediately [8,18,19].
Drawing on carbohydrate stores in the rhizomes, it initiates leaf
production and vegetative reproduction, increasing stem density .
The response is so strong that winter-burned saw-palmetto will break
winter dormancy and produce leaves and fruit out of season [1,19].
Immediate Effect of Fire
top-kill it [1,3]. Saw-palmetto rhizomes survive most fires. Unusually
severe fires may consume the soil's organic layer and/or sufficiently
expose and heat the rhizomes to kill them and prevent regeneration
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
survivor species; on-site surviving rhizomes
frequently burned sites. It survives fire by resprouting from
persistent root crowns and rhizomes [1,2].
Vegetative: Saw-palmetto sprouts from horizontal stems and rhizomes.
Sexual: Saw-palmetto flowers are insect pollinated. Extensive wildlife
use of saw-palmetto fruit suggests that its seeds are animal dispersed.
The fruit endocarp and seed coat are impermeable to oxygen. Germination
may be delayed 4 to 6 months while these tissues deteriorate . The
soil characteristics required for germination are unknown.
Seedling growth and early development are slow. Establishment requires
2 to 6 years. Flooding prevents establishment on wet sites, and
saturated soils retard seedling root development during the summer rainy
season. Seedlings are vulnerable to competition, drought, and fire
In the nursery, saw-palmetto may be propagated by seed. Ripe fruit can
be collected by hand-picking or by cutting the fruit-bearing panicle,
and seeds extracted with a macerator. Commercial sources of
saw-palmetto seeds are often available. Seeds with the micropyle cap
removed will germinate in 11 days; those with the micropyle cap intact
may require 45 to 60 days. Dried seeds average 1,080 per pound
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: geophyte, phanerophyte
Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (nanophanerophyte)
Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (microphanerophyte)
Burned or Clipped State: Cryptophyte (geophyte)
A common understory species, saw-palmetto is shade tolerent and grows in
both sunny and shaded habitats . It is a prominent member of
several Southern fire-climax communities and is a frequent invader of
very dry  or frequently burned  habitats.
Life History and Behavior
Saw-palmetto blooms between April and July [10,19,32]. Maximum spadix
initiation begins after the danger of frost is past and may be
stimulated by rising temperatures. The fruits ripen in September and
October. Maximum saw-palmetto growth occurs during the summer rainy
season, achieving 80 percent of annual production between April and
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Serenoa repens
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Serenoa repens
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Saw-palmetto is a pest and fire hazard in Southern timber stands. It
contributes large amounts of combustible fuel to forest understories and
competes with pines (Pinus spp.) for moisture, nutrients, and space
Silvicultural and range management objectives often call for
saw-palmetto control. Centuries of open range, abusive burning, and
excessive grazing have converted many flatwood-bluestem (Andropogon
spp.) ranges into flatwood-saw-palmetto ranges . Saw-palmetto
control releases palatable grasses and forbs for livestock and deer, and
reduces competition with conifers . Mist-blower applications of the
herbicide 2,4,5-T provide effective control [19,23], especially when
used in conjunction with prescribed burning  or other defoliation
treatments . Following defoliation by fire or mechanical treatment,
saw-palmetto should be sprayed when new shoots appear (approximately 6
months later) .
Saw-palmetto does not regenerate well following mechanical removal .
Mechanical disturbance which dislodges, uproots, and cuts saw-palmetto
stems and rhizomes provides effective control . Roller-drum
choppers pulled in tandem at offset angles  or perpendicular to each
other  may reduce saw-palmetto cover by 90 percent 2 years after
treatment . Chop-rest-chop rotations provide continued range
When wildlife or cover management goals require saw-palmetto
enhancement, use rock phosphate fertilizer  or site drainage  to
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
fruits of saw-palmetto and used to treat bladder, prostate, and urethra
infections. Bees collect nectar from the flowers to produce honey .
Saw-palmetto leaves provide thatch and Christmas decorations. Saw
palmetto stems are a source of tannin acid extract and can be processed
into a cork substitute [32,38].
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
Saw-palmetto can be used for watershed protection, erosion control, and
phosphate-mine reclamation .
Saw-palmetto provides security cover for white-tailed deer in Florida's
pine flatwoods .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
livestock forage and is a rangeland pest [18,19].
Saw-palmetto helps provide primary habitat for the wildlife of southern
Florida's palmetto prairies. Distinctive species include the crested
caracara, the Florida burrowing owl, and the Florida sandhill crane .
As a member of scrub communities, saw-palmetto provides essential
habitat for sand skinks, the Florida mouse, and a variety of birds,
including the Florida scrub jay--a threatened subspecies . Black
bears feed on saw-palmetto fruit  and the young shoots which sprout
after winter fires in the Florida flatwoods . White-tailed deer
also eat saw-palmetto fruit, especially during dry years .
Wood Products Value
although the quality of the paper produced is poor [32,38].
Serenoa repens, commonly known as saw palmetto, is the sole species currently classified in the genus Serenoa. It has been known by a number of synonyms, including Sabal serrulatum, under which name it still often appears in alternative medicine. It is a small palm, growing to a maximum height of around 7–10 ft (2–3 m). Its trunk is sprawling, and it grows in clumps or dense thickets in sandy coastal lands or as undergrowth in pine woods or hardwood hammocks. Erect stems or trunks are rarely produced but are found in some populations. It is endemic to the southeastern United States, most commonly along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal plains, but also as far inland as southern Arkansas. It is a hardy plant; extremely slow growing, and long lived, with some plants, especially in Florida where it is known as simply the palmetto, possibly being as old as 500–700 years.
Saw palmetto is a fan palm, with the leaves that have a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of about 20 leaflets. The petiole is armed with fine, sharp teeth or spines that give the species its common name. The teeth or spines are easily capable of breaking the skin, and protection should be worn when working around a Saw Palmetto. The leaves are light green inland, and silvery-white in coastal regions. The leaves are 1–2 m in length, the leaflets 50–100 cm long. They are similar to the leaves of the palmettos of genus Sabal. The flowers are yellowish-white, about 5 mm across, produced in dense compound panicles up to 60 cm long. The fruit is a large reddish-black drupe and is an important food source for wildlife and historically for humans. The plant is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species such as Batrachedra decoctor, which feeds exclusively on the plant. This plant is also edible to human beings, but the more green it is the more bitter tasting it would be.
The fruits of the saw palmetto are highly enriched with fatty acids and phytosterols, and extracts of the fruits have been the subject of intensive research for the symptomatic treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
Numerous meta-analyses of clinical trials S. repens extract in the treatment of BPH have found it safe and effective for mild-to-moderate BPH compared to placebo, finasteride, and tamsulosin Two larger trials found the extract no different from placebo. An updated meta-analysis including these trials found that saw palmetto extract "was not more effective than placebo for treatment of hyperplasia."
S. repens extract has been promoted as useful for people with prostate cancer. However, according to the American Cancer Society, "available scientific studies do not support claims that saw palmetto can prevent or treat prostate cancer in humans".
Indigenous names reported by Austin include: tala (Choctaw); cani (Timucua); ta ́:la (Koasati); taalachoba ("big palm", Alabama); ta:laɬ a ́ kko ("big palm," Creek); talco ́:bˆı ("big palm," Mikasuki); talimushi ("palmetto's uncle," Choctaw), and guana (Taino, possibly). Saw palmetto fibers have been found among materials from indigenous people as far north as Wisconsin and New York, strongly suggesting this material was widely traded prior to European contact. The leaves are used for thatching by several indigenous groups; so commonly so that there is a location in Alachua County, Florida named Kanapaha ("palm house"). The fruits may have been used to treat an unclear form of fish poisoning by the Seminoles and Bahamians.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Serenoa repens.|
|Wikispecies has information related to: Serenoa repens|
- "Serenoa repens (W. Bartram) Small". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1997-05-22. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
- "Conservation Plant Characteristics for Serenoa repens".
- Tanner, George W.; J. Jeffrey Mullahey; David Maehr (July 1996). "Saw-palmetto: An Ecologically and Economically Important Native Palm" (PDF). Circular WEC-109. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
- Wilt T, Ishani A, Mac Donald R (2002). Tacklind, James, ed. "Serenoa repens for benign prostatic hyperplasia". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (3): CD001423. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001423. PMID 12137626.
- Boyle, P; Robertson C; Lowe F; Roehrborn C (Apr 2004). "Updated meta-analysis of clinical trials of Serenoa repens extract in the treatment of symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia". BJU Int 93 (6): 751–756. doi:10.1111/j.1464-410X.2003.04735.x. PMID 15049985.
- Bent S, Kane C, Shinohara K, et al. (February 2006). "Saw palmetto for benign prostatic hyperplasia". N. Engl. J. Med. 354 (6): 557–566. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa053085. PMID 16467543.
- Dedhia RC, McVary KT (June 2008). "Phytotherapy for lower urinary tract symptoms secondary to benign prostatic hyperplasia". J. Urol. 179 (6): 2119–2125. doi:10.1016/j.juro.2008.01.094. PMID 18423748.
- Tacklind, J; MacDonald R; Rutks I; Wilt TJ (April 2009). Tacklind, James, ed. "Serenoa repens for benign prostatic hyperplasia". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (2): CD001423. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001423.pub2. PMC 3090655. PMID 19370565.
- "Saw Palmetto". American Cancer Society. 28 November 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
- Austin, DF (2004). Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-2332-4.
- Whitford AC (1941). "Textile fibers used in eastern aboriginal North America". Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 38: 5–22.
- Simpson, JC (1956). A Provisional Gazetteer of Florida Place-Names of Indian Derivation. Tallahassee: Florida Geological Survey.
- Sturtevant, WC (1955). The Mikasuki Seminole: Medical Beliefs and Practices. Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms.
Two or three leaf-color morphs are found in Serenoa (A. D. Hawkes 1950). The green type is more widespread, and the glaucous or blue-gray type seems to be more abundant in coastal sites of southeastern Florida. Serenoa repens forma glauca Moldenke was described as differing from the typical form of the species in having glaucous leaf blades (H. N. Moldenke 1967). Since a type specimen for S. repens is lacking, it is impossible to know if Moldenke’s form differs from the type. The genetic basis for these color differences is not understood.
Serenoa repens apparently is pollinated by bees. Flowering and fruiting are not necessarily annual events, and some years see more abundant flowering than others (J. B. Hilmon 1968). Even when flowering is abundant, fruit production is erratic (D. Smith 1972); the causes are quite unknown. When fruits are present, they are eagerly sought by black bears (D. S. Maehr 1984; D. S. Maehr and J. R. Brady 1984), white-tailed deer (R. F. Harlow 1961), raccoons, foxes, opossums, and various birds (J. B. Hilmon 1968).
Serenoa fruits are the source of a steroidal drug that inhibits the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, which binds to receptors in the prostate gland and in hair follicles (B. C. Bennett and J. R. Hicklin, in press1998). This inhibition is the biochemical basis for the use of Serenoa extracts in treating benign prostrate swelling and baldness. Bennett and Hicklin provided a complete review of the uses of Serenoa in traditional and modern medicine, as well as its use as a fiber and thatch plant.
This plant is noted for its ability to effectively treat benign prostatic hyperplasia and many other medical uses. Additionaly, Serenoa repens' petiole fibers are used by the Seminoles of southern Florida to make dolls.
Names and Taxonomy
repens (Bartr.) Small (Palmea or Arecaceae) . There are no
recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms .
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