Facts About Florida's State Tree

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The sabal palm is the state tree of Florida.
Image Credit: ottoblotto/iStock/GettyImages

Since 1953, the cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) has been the state tree of Florida, though it was not until 1970 that it replaced the cocoa palm on the state seal. The cabbage palm is native to the state of Florida and also occurs naturally in Georgia, Louisiana and the Carolinas as well as in Cuba and the Bahamas. In fact, the cabbage palm is also the state tree of South Carolina. Considered hardy in USDA zones 9 and 10, the cabbage palm is one of the hardiest types of palms found anywhere.

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State Tree of Florida Identification

From a scientific perspective, as a palm tree, the cabbage palm is not truly a tree but is rather a type of grass. The trunk of a cabbage palm is usually about 40 feet tall with widths between 10 and 16 inches. The canopy has a rounded form. The leaves of the cabbage palm, called fronds, grow from the top of the tree and can be 3 to 4 feet long, while the petioles have lengths between 3 and 6 feet. The cabbage palm is the northernmost palm in the Americas.

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The cabbage palm is found throughout the state of Florida in hammocks, river banks and pine woodlands. Naturally, they are found within 75 miles of the coast. The leaves of the cabbage palm can handle salt spray very well, but the roots cannot handle it. In the spring, cabbage palms produce clusters of white fragrant flowers that are followed in late summer by tiny black fruits that birds, raccoons and other wildlife eat.

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About Cabbage Palms

Cabbage palms can only be started from seed. Easy to transplant, they can handle full sun or part shade, though they grow slower in part shade. As hurricane-resistant plants, cabbage palms are well-suited for life in south Florida, where they are often used as street trees. Indigenous Floridians made baskets out of the fronds of the cabbage palm while using both the fronds and the trunk to construct shelters.

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The leaves of the cabbage palm emerge from a terminal bud referred to as "heart," which is edible and has a cabbagelike flavor, hence the common name of the species. The bud is sometimes referred to as "heart of palm" and "swamp cabbage." Harvesting the bud of a cabbage palm kills the plant, so it is not advisable to do so. Old fronds turn brown and will remain hanging from the base of the crown if they are not removed.

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What's Florida's State Flower, Animal and Bird?

The marvelously fragrant bloom of the orange tree (Citrus sinensis) has been Florida's state flower since the 1909 Florida legislature adopted it as such. Florida's state animal is the endangered Florida panther, a type of mountain lion found in the swamplands in the southernmost part of the state, while the state bird is the northern mockingbird, which is famous for its ability to mimic the calls of other species. Four other states – Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee – have also designated the northern mockingbird as their state bird.

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