What is a Dwarf Palmetto?

C. O'Connor
C. O'Connor
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

A dwarf palmetto, or Sabal minor, is a perennial shrub or tree and is one of about 14 types of palmetto palm. It is native to the southeastern United States and is tolerant of temperatures as low as zero degrees Fahrenheit (minus-18 degrees Celsius). It grows up to about 3.3 feet (1 m) tall, with a trunk as much as 11.8 inches (30 cm) diameter. Each leaf is 4.9 to 6.6 feet (1.5 to 2 m) long, with 50 leaflets up to 2.6 feet (80 cm) long. Its flowers are yellow-white and grow in long panicles up to 6.6 feet (2 m) in length, blooming in spring.

It fruits in the fall, a black drupe with one seed. The fruits of the dwarf palmetto are an important part of the diet of robins and other birds as well as raccoons. In addition, cattle will graze the dwarf palmetto, more than any other of the palm species.

It is tolerant of shade and has high moisture requirements, and the roots reach a depth of 18 inches (45.7 cm). A very cold-hardy strain is the McCurtain, which is trunkless and smaller but able to survive without protection in some northern regions and is able to survive with protection even further north. It does require 180 days without frost every year.

The dwarf palmetto requires soil potenz hydrogen (pH) of 5.5 to 6.5, needs approximately 35 inches (89 cm) per year of precipitation and can tolerate crowding in fine or medium soil. It is not toxic to other plants or livestock, but it is not palatable. It also is fire resistant.

This palm has a moderate lifespan and a slow growth rate. It can be propagated by all three methods: bare root, container and seed. Although common to floodplain forests and freshwater wetlands, it is the hardiest of the palms and can be grown in a wide variety of soils in both moist and dry areas.

It can be grown easily from seed. The fresh seed will germinate easily, and the plant can then be transplanted the following year, with transplanting best done in the summer. After it has been transplanted, the plant needs frequent watering to establish the root system. Once established, the plant will self-sow, so if that is not desired, the fruit should be removed.

This is a very useful plant. Native Americans have used its roots medicinally for making eye medicines, high blood pressure medications and medications for kidney illnesses. They also have used it as food — the fresh roots can be baked into bread — and have used the leaves to make baskets, and lashings and fans. The fruit was called “famine food.”

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