General: This shrub-like palm generally reaches a height of only 0.5 to 2 m. The stem is usually not visible, being either buried or very short, although it has been reported to occasionally reach 8m tall in Louisiana and Texas. The circular, fan-like leaves are composed of 16 to 40 pale- or blue-green blades that are 15dm wide. These stiff, nearly flat blades do not have a prominent midrib. The white flower petals are 2 to 3 mm long. The small fruits (6-8mm in diameter) are glossy black in color and enclose a large seed (5-6mm). The fruits ripen in the fall.
Similar species: Cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto) is a palm tree that can reach 20 m in height. Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) often has a similar appearance as dwarf palmetto as it has a short or horizontal stem. It grows in the same native range but is less cold hardy.
Distribution: Native to the Gulf Coast States and Florida. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.
Bluestem, scrub palmetto, bush palmetto.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Dwarf palmetto grows along streams, in swampy or rocky hammocks and in maritime heaths along the coastal plain in the southeastern United States. It is common to freshwater wetlands and floodplain forests where it often forms dense thickets. It rarely occurs in upland woodlands. This is the hardiest of the Sabal genus as well as one of the hardiest of palms.
Dwarf palmetto is simple to grow and can be grown in a wide variety of soils with medium drainage and fertility in both moist and fairly dry areas. It has a slow to moderate growth rate.
Seeds: May be easily propagated from seed as fresh seed germinates readily. Transplant in the following year.
Transplanting: It is best to transplant in June or July. Water frequently until the plant shows growth to ensure proper establishment of the root system.
Life History and Behavior
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Sabal minor
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sabal minor
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status (e.g. threatened or endangered species, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values).
Comments: Land-use conversion and habitat fragmentation are low-level threats (Southern Appalachian Species Viability Project 2002).
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
These plant materials are somewhat available from commercial sources. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Established plants tend to self-sow. Fruit drupes may be removed if self-sowing is not desired.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The Houma used juice crushed from the small roots as an eye medicine to relieve irritation. Dried roots were taken for high blood pressure. A tea from the dried roots was taken for kidney ailments and as a stimulant for “swimming in the head.” The fresh roots were baked and served as “palmetto bread.” The small fruits, sometimes called “famine food” were also eaten. The Seminoles, Houma, Choctaw, and other Native American tribes used the leaves of dwarf palmetto much in the same way that they used the leaves of the related tree, cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto). The fan-shaped leaves were used to thatch homes. Immature blades from the leaves were prepared by sun-bleaching and then braided into thin strips for use as lashings or sewn together to make baskets and other useful articles. Leaves were used to make fans that were carried during certain dances. Coiled-grass baskets tied with palmetto were made by the Houma as late as the 1930s. These unique baskets were made only in Louisiana and Tierra del Fuego. Contemporary people use the palmetto leaves to weave baskets and make small dolls with hair of Spanish moss.
Wildlife: The fruits are an important food for robins and raccoons, providing from 10% to 20% of their diet. Fish crows, mockingbirds, myrtle warblers, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, and gray squirrels also eat the fruits.
Livestock: This plant is reported to be frequently grazed by cattle, more so than any other palm.
Sabal minor, commonly known as the Dwarf Palmetto or Bush palmetto, is one of about 14 species of palmetto palm (Arecaceae, genus Sabal). It is native to the southeastern United States. In former times, it was said to be native as far north as southeastern Virginia, but its current known range begins about 10 miles south of the Virginia border on Monkey Island in Currituck County, North Carolina, and continues south to Florida. It is widespread along the gulf coast through Louisiana, into Central Texas north to Oklahoma.
Although it is mainly found in the southern states, it is one of the only palms that can stand somewhat cooler temperatures. It is one of the most frost-tolerant palms, surviving temperatures as low as −18°C (among North American palms, second only to the Needle Palm Rhapidophyllum hystrix). Its cold-hardiness is variable throughout its range with the Oklahoma native population believed by many to be the cold-hardiest population. This palm may be hardy to zone 6B.
The Dwarf Palmetto grows up to 1 m (rarely 3 m) in height, with a trunk up to 30 cm diameter. It is a fan palm (Arecaceae tribe Corypheae), with the leaves with a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets. Each leaf is 1.5–2 m long, with 40 leaflets up to 80 cm long, conjoined over half of this length. The flowers are yellowish-white, 5 mm across, produced in large compound panicles up to 2 m long, extending out beyond the leaves. The fruit is a black drupe 1–1.3 cm long containing a single seed.
Sabal minor is one of the most cold hardy palms, able to survive winters in warm temperate climates on most cases. Hardy to near 0 F/-18 C. Although native to the deep southern USA, Sabal minor is cultivated in small numbers as far north as Vancouver BC on the West Coast, and Connecticut/Long Island, New York on the East Coast of North America. Large healthy specimens have been growing since the 1960s in areas like Central Tennessee, Washington, DC (National Botanical garden), and in the lower Ohio Valley. There are several cultivars, including those from the Outer Banks of North Carolina (northernmost strains), and those from Oklahoma and Texas. One popular strain is 'McCurtain', named after McCurtain County, Oklahoma where they are native. These tend to remain trunkless and smaller than those from warmer areas.
Sabal minor is usually a small palm with a subterranean trunk; however, one can find individuals with larger features and well-developed aerial stems. In Louisiana, these individuals were recognized as separate species (J. K. Small 1929; M. L. Bomhard 1935), but more recently they have been treated as merely ecological variants of a single widespread species (A. Henderson et al. 1995; P. F. Ramp and L. B. Thien 1995; S. Zona 1990). Large emergent forms of S. minor were even thought by B. J. Simpson (1988) to be hybrids of that species with S. palmetto, but his claim is undocumented and unsubstantiated.
An unusual habitat for this species, a dry hillside in central Texas, was illustrated by L. Lockett (1991).
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