Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)

Educational Story

First described and named by William Bartram on his travels through Florida in the late 1700’s, the Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens, is a major ground cover shrub occurring in many upland flatwoods ecosystems in Florida.  This low-growing, sturdy palm is also used widely as a landscape plant. The thick stalks creep along the ground with visible, fire-resistant, rhizomatous roots. It has small yellowish-white flowers that are borne in clusters along a dense compound panicle.  These flowers are a major nectar source in spring in many areas of Florida and over 300  insect species have been found feeding on them!  The olive-shaped black fruits are a major source of food for black bears and other wildlife.  Saw palmettos are adapted to frequent wildfire, often splitting or cloning in response to fire. The palm fronds grow back quickly after fire by resprouting from large underground roots. The stems that grow along the ground are sometimes called “alligator backs” because when the vegetation is burned away by fire, the charred rhizomes resemble the pattern on an alligator’s back. They are a very durable, long-lived plants; some individuals have been recorded to be more than 5,000 years old!

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Gardening Facts

Scientific Name: Serenoa repens
Common Name: Saw Palmetto
Description of facts and concepts: Edible fruits, low maintenance, can harvest seeds
Seed or division information: Seeds
Date of flower’s bloom (Month and week): Spring, summer
Ecoregion: Pinelands, flatwoods, hammocks
Color of Flower: Yellowish-white
Height: 2 to 10 feet
Spread: 4 to 10 feet
Family: Arecaceae (palm)
Soil Type: Base to Acidic pH>7
Soil: Dry to Wet Moist, well drained soils; can sustain inundation for long periods.
Light: Sun to Shade Full sun to part shade
Zone 8B-11B