Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Information on Saw Palmetto Plants

Seeds of saw palmetto are harvested from August to October.

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Native to the coastal plains from South Carolina and eastern Louisiana to the tip of southernmost Florida, the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is one of the few palm species native to the United States. Found growing in densest numbers in southern Georgia and the northern half of Florida, saw palmetto prospers in hot, sunny areas in seasonally dry sands, often under pine trees. This palm usually matures at 3 to 6 feet tall. A visit to Florida gives you an opportunity to taste and purchase palmetto honey, which comes from the nectar-rich flowers of saw palmetto.

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Saw palmettos gained their common name because of the numerous short, black spines that line the leaf stem petioles. Running your hand or other bare-skinned part of your body across the petioles would leave cuts like a saw blade. Each evergreen leaf is a handlike fan with numerous deep cuts. The leaves range in color from yellow-green to silvery blue-green. Slow growing, saw palmettos develop a large underground trunk that surfaces and remains prostrate on the soil surface. The crown of fronds rises from upright-growing tips on the trunk. In rare cases a saw palmetto's trunk grows fully upright like a tree.

Flowers and Fruit

Anytime from late February to late April across its native range, the saw palmetto bears clusters of fragrant, creamy white flowers. These tiny flowers occur on a low, branching structure called an inflorescence that rises from the base of the palm and remains well below the leafy fronds. Bees pollinate the flowers, creating a distinctly flavored and colored honey. Afterward, the flowers become olive-sized orange fruits that mature to black. One seed ripens inside each fruit. Flowering and fruiting occurs more abundantly after saw palmettos are burned by wildfire, and on plants larger than 2 feet tall.

Growing Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto grows well in areas of the U.S. where winters are not colder than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, which correlates to U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 and warmer. They excel in any loose-textured soil that has good drainage and is not overly fertile. Plant a saw palmetto in full sun for best leafy development, flowering and overall uniform shape and attractive silhouette. Silvery blue-leaved forms of the saw palmetto are a bit faster growing and larger at maturity than the green-leaved type. Overly fertile soils coupled with irrigation causes saw palmetto to become a large clump with massive trunks and numerous suckering frond clusters.


The saw palmetto demonstrates excellent tolerance to summertime heat, drought and salt spray, such as near the ocean. Across the southeastern states, saw palmettos are used as a tough landscape shrub for naturalistic plantings or for restoration work. The fronds, especially of the silver-blue-leaved plants, may be cut and used as Christmas greenery. The fruits of saw palmetto, although edible, are not palatable. However, dried fruits, once the seeds are removed, are pulverized into a powder and rehydrated into a gel capsule for use as an herbal supplement.

ReferencesU.S. Forest Service; Serenoa Repens; Jill R. Barbour"A Gardener's Guide to Florida's Native Plants"; Rufino Osorio; 2001ResourcesNational Gardening Association: USDA Hardiness Zone FinderLearn2Grow: Serenoa RepensPhoto Credit Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty ImagesRead Next:

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