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Sabal minor - (Jacq.)Pers.

Bush Palmetto

Author(Jacq.)Pers. Botanical references200, 229, 274
FamilyPalmae GenusSabal
SynonymsSabal adansonii - Guersent.
Sabal louisiana - (W.Darby.)Bomhard.
Known HazardsNone known
RangeSouth-eastern N. America - North Carolina to Florida.
HabitatAn understorey shrub of broad-leaved, mainly deciduous woodlands in low-lying river terrace areas and other sites where water at the roots is readily available[231].
Edibility Ratingapple iconapple icon 2 (1-5) Medicinal Ratingapple icon 1 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics

icon of man icon of shrub An evergreen Shrub growing to 3m by 2m at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone 8. It is in leaf all year. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It requires moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.


Woodland Garden; Sunny Edge; East Wall By; South Wall By; West Wall By;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit; Leaves; Root; Sap.

Fresh root slices have been baked and eaten as bread[257]. The fruit is a small dry berry up to 10mm in diameter, with a thin sweet flesh[229]. Although we have seen no other records of edibility for this species, the following uses are for the related S. palmetto. They quite probably also apply here[K]. Fruit - raw or cooked[2]. Sweet and pleasant[2]. A small dry berry up to 12mm in diameter, with a thin sweet flesh[229]. A nourishing food, though it is said to be an acquired taste[2]. Young leaves - raw or cooked[171]. An excellent food[2]. The large succulent leaf buds are cooked and eaten as a vegetable[82]. Sap - sweet[2].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Hypotensive; Kidney; Ophthalmic.

The crushed, small root juice has been rubbed into sore eyes as a counterirritant[257]. A decoction of the dried root has been taken in the treatment of high blood pressure and kidney problems[257].

Other Uses

Fibre; Tannin; Thatching.

The dried leaves are used occasionally for the thatched roofs of huts[229]. The following reports are for S. palmetto. They quite probably also apply to this species[K]. An excellent fibre is obtained from the leaf stalks[171]. The best quality is from young leaf stalks still in the bud, whilst coarser material is obtained from older leaves or the bases of old leaf stalks surrounding the bud[171]. The fibres are up to 50cm long, they are harvested commercially and used to make brushes, especially where these have to remain stiff in hot water or caustics[82, 171]. Pieces of the spongy bark of the stem are used as a substitute for scrubbing brushes[82]. The leaves are woven to make coarse hats, mats and baskets[82]. The roots contain about 10% tannin[171]. This has been harvested commercially in the past but there is not really enough tannin for profitable extraction[171]. Wood - light and soft[82]. The trunks are used to make wharf piles, whilst polished cross-sections of the trunk have been used as small table tops[82]. The wood is also largely manufactured into canes[82].

Cultivation details

Succeeds in most fertile moist but well-drained soils in a sheltered sunny position[188, 200, 231]. Although it prefers a humid atmosphere, this species is tolerant of arid atmospheres so long as it has plenty of moisture available at the roots[231]. This palm tolerates short-lived freezes down to about -10c and can be grown outdoors in the very mildest areas of the country[231]. 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, but more recently they have been treated as merely ecological variants of a single widespread species[270]. Large emergent forms of S. minor were even thought to be hybrids of that species with S. palmetto, but this claim is undocumented and unsubstantiated[270]. Palms usually have deep penetrating root systems and generally establish best when planted out at a young stage. However, older plants are substantially more cold tolerant than juvenile plants[231]. In areas at the limit of their cold tolerance, therefore, it is prudent to grow the plants in containers for some years, giving them winter protection, and only planting them into their permanent positions when sheer size dictates[231]. This species can also be transplanted even when very large. Although the thick fleshy roots are easily damaged and/or desiccated, new roots are generally freely produced. It is important to stake the plant very firmly to prevent rock, and also to give it plenty of water until re-established - removing many of the leaves can also help[231]. Of prolific growth and vigour in its native environment, this species has proved to be difficult to establish and slow to grow in cultivation[231]. Small plants are especially slow to get away and are best container-grown until of a god size[231].


Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a warm greenhouse at not less than 24c[188]. Stored seed is very slow to germinate. Pre-soaking the seed for 24 hours in warm water prior to sowing may shorten the germination time. Plants form a long tap-root some time before forming a shoot. Germination of fresh seed usually takes place in 3 - 4 months at 25c[138]. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Consider giving them some protection from the cold for at least their first winter outdoors.



[K] Ken Fern
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[2] Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications 1972 ISBN 0-486-20459-6
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.

[82] Sargent. C. S. Manual of the Trees of N. America. Dover Publications Inc. New York. 1965 ISBN 0-486-20278-X
Two volumes, a comprehensive listing of N. American trees though a bit out of date now. Good details on habitats, some details on plant uses. Not really for the casual reader.

[138] Bird. R. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 3. Thompson and Morgan. 1989
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.

[171] Hill. A. F. Economic Botany. The Maple Press 1952
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.

[188] Brickell. C. The RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers Dorling Kindersley Publishers Ltd. 1990 ISBN 0-86318-386-7
Excellent range of photographs, some cultivation details but very little information on plant uses.

[200] Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press 1992 ISBN 0-333-47494-5
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.

[229] Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. 1980 ISBN 0442238622
A very good concise guide. Gives habitats, good descriptions, maps showing distribution and a few of the uses. It also includes the many shrubs that occasionally reach tree proportions.

[231] McMillan-Browse. P. Palms for Cooler Climates. Trebah Enterprises. 1993 ISBN 0 9521952 0 8
An excellent little booklet on the subject, though it does not mention many plant uses.

[257] Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon. 1998 ISBN 0-88192-453-9
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.

[270] Flora of N. America 0
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.

[274] Diggs, Jnr. G.M.; Lipscomb. B. L. & O'Kennon. R. J Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas Botanical Research Institute, Texas. 1999 ISBN 1-889878-01-4
An excellent flora, which is also available on-line.



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