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Publication #FPS-547

Serenoa repens Saw Palmetto1

Edward F. Gilman2

Introduction

Saw palmetto is an extremely sturdy palm with great textural interest that blends in well with natural or seaside landscapes (Fig. 1). This low, clumping, bushy palm has large, fan-shaped leaves and multiple trunks that creep along the ground, creating a dense ground cover. Most saw palmettos have green leaves, but a form with blue leaves can be found along the southeast coast of Florida. Three-foot-long flower stalks appear in spring, covered with small, yellow-white, fragrant flowers, the source of a commercial high-grade honey. The flowers are followed by small, yellow berries that turn black, ripening August through October. These berries are an important food source for many mammals and birds.

General Information

Scientific name: Serenoa repens
Pronunciation: sair-ren-NOE-uh REE-penz
Common name(s): saw palmetto
Figure 1. 

Saw palmetto


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]
Family: Aracaceae
Plant type: palm
USDA hardiness zones: 8 through 11 (Fig. 2)
Figure 2. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.


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Planting month for zone 8: year round
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: mass planting; specimen; naturalizing; border; reclamation plant; accent; ground cover; attracts butterflies
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Description

Growth rate: slow
Height: 5 to 10 feet
Spread: 4 to 10 feet
Plant habit: palm
Plant density: open
Texture: medium

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: parted
Leaf shape: star-shaped
Leaf venation: palmate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: more than 36 inches
Leaf color: silver/gray; blue or blue-green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Flower

Flower color: yellow-white
Flower characteristic: spring flowering; pleasant fragrance

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit cover: fleshy
Fruit color: black
Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: showy; typically multi-trunked or clumping stems
Current year stem/twig color: not applicable
Current year stem/twig thickness: not applicable

Culture

Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun; plant grows in the shade
Soil tolerances: alkaline; clay; sand; acidic; loam
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerances: good
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches

Other

Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: aggressive, spreading plant
Pest resistance: no serious pests are normally seen on the plant

Use and Management

Surviving only on rainfall once established, saw palmetto grows on any well-drained soil in full sun to shade, and is highly salt tolerant. Best transplanted when young, larger specimens ideally should not be removed during land clearing, since plants grow very slowly and transplant so poorly. This happens because stems frequently grow along the ground as they droop under the weight of the foliage. Therefore, the root system may not be located beneath the foliage but could be 5 to 10 feet away at the base of the stem. Twice the desired number of collected saw palmetto are often planted since mortality is high. Saw palmetto is becoming more available in containers from nurseries. Homeowners should make an effort to leave native stands in place beneath existing trees when developing a new lot since they require no maintenance.
Saw palmetto should be planted on 3- to 5-foot centers to establish a new mass planting. They make a wonderful ground cover effect beneath existing or newly planted trees. Upright plants can be grown into beautiful multi-stemmed specimens but these are not common and quite expensive.
The variety sericea, silver palmetto, is recognized by some authorities and has beautiful silver leaves.
Propagation is usually by seed but seedlings grow very slowly.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FPS-547, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date October 1999. Revised May 2007. Reviewed June 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.