Sabal Palms III: Sabal palmetto and Minor Sabal Species

Continuing on with our series on hardy palms is the species Sabal palmetto, the palm that is on the state flag of South Carolina and Florida. The following descriptions highlight the tremendous variety of the species.

Sabal palmetto (Palmetto Palm)

The 40′ tall S. palmetto is the dominant trunked palm in the Southeast US. Its native range ranges from Florida north to coastal North Carolina. Like S. minor, the cultivars are seed grown and represent particular genetic populations. (Hardiness Zone 8-10)

S. palmetto ‘Bald Head Island’ (Bald Head Island Palmetto Palm)

The most northern native stand of S. palmettos in the country resides on Bald Head Island, NC. We have found seedlings from these plants to be particularly winter hardy in our climate, showing no damage since 1999. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)

S. palmetto ‘Lisa’ (Lisa Palmetto Palm)

This is a most unusual congested leaf form of S. palmetto, and reportedly one that has exceptional winter hardiness. I have yet to try this in the ground in Zone 7b. (Hardiness Zone 8-10, guessing)

S. palmetto ‘Mt. Holly’ (Mt. Holly Palmetto Palm)

This is another exceptionally winter hardy form of S. palmetto grown from seed of a plant in Mt. Holly (west of Charlotte), North Carolina. Planted in the 1960s, these 18-20′ palms have survived -5 degrees F in their current location. We have had these in the garden since 1999 without any sign of damage. The foliage on this form is much narrower than what we think of as a typical S. palmetto.

S. palmetto ‘Rock Hill’ (Rock Hill Palmetto Palm)

These S. palmettos are from a stand in Rock Hill, SC (just south of Charlotte NC). They were planted in the 1950s, and survived the record low temperature of -8 degrees F in, 1984/85. The leaves of this form are much wider than the S. palmetto ‘Mt. Holly’ form, and have shown slightly less winter hardiness in our trials. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)

S. palmetto ‘Tifton Hardy’ (Tifton Hardy Palmetto Palm)

This seed strain of the southeast native S. palmetto was collected by retired City of Raleigh horticulturist Noel Weston on a trip through Tifton, Georgia after the 1980s freeze that killed most of the palmettos. Noel found an undamaged specimen at a Tifton hotel and collected seed. Expect a 10′ trunk in 15 years. The leaves on this form are wide like S. palmetto ‘Rock Hill’. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)

S. rosei (Savannah Palmetto)

This little known palm hails from Mexico’s West Coast, where it can be found in tropical deciduous forests to 2,500′ elevation from Culiacan south to Guadalajara. The 40′ tall palms resemble the east coast S. palmetto, but with very stiff costapalmate leaves. Plants at Georgia’s Bamboo Farm have taken 15 degrees F, and Alabama’s Hayes Jackson reports that his plants have withstood 8 degrees F, so we think these are worth a try for gardeners willing to experiment. S. rosei prefers well-draining soils and sites in full sun. Small plants in our garden survived 9 degrees F in 2009, although the foliage burned off. (Hardiness Zone 8b-10, at least)

Sabal sp. Tamaulipas (Mexican Scrub Palm)

(aka: S. minor YD 17-55) This unique, garden-worthy palm has been lumped into S. minor, which is bizarre if you have grown these two plants side by side. Sabal sp. Tamaulipas is a S. minor on steroids growing three times as fast, with much larger leaves, and much larger seed. The 6′ wide costapalmate (bends in the middle) leaves adorn the 8′ tall clumps. Our parent plant is from a 1988 Yucca Do seed expedition into Tamaulipas, Mexico, where these palms were found around 1,500′ elevation. Although seemingly trunkless, older specimens develop a horizontal trunk up to 4′ long that lays on the ground. Our oldest plants, installed in 1997, have reached 8′ in height. (Hardiness Zone 7b-10)

S. uresana (Sonoran Palmetto)

From up to 4500′ elevation in the valleys and foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental (states of Sonora and Chihuahua) in Western Mexico comes this relative of Sabal palmetto that has performed well in East Coast Zone 8 gardens. S. uresana is very slow, but eventually (in your grand-kids lifetime) makes a stunning 30′ tall tree with costapalmate silvery-green leaves and a contrasting dark brown trunk. If you enjoy experimenting, Sabal uresana is a good one to try.