Saturday, August 6, 2011

Swamp Cabbage Patch Kids

If you’ve ever seen a palm fly by at 60 MPH you were either in a hurricane or watching palms being transported on a flatbed truck. There are over 2500 palm species in the world and many have shallow root systems that allow them to bend in the wind but can be plucked from the ground and relocated by landscapers.

A safer and more natural way to discover the beauty and diversity of palms is to take drive through any neighborhood in south Florida. Over twenty-five species are used as ornamentals but only ten are actually native.

The Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto) was voted Florida’s state tree in 1953 after what I can only imagine was a contentious and bitter dispute between the two state branches of congress. The House selected the regal Royal Palm (Roystonea regia) in 1949 but when the Senate passed on the idea, it wasn’t until four years later that the ubiquitous and iconic Sabal Palm with its fan-shaped fronds became the official state tree.

Palms are unique in that they don’t have bark, cambium or heartwood like most trees. Instead they have an inner core protected by an outer sheath and both sections have living tissue. Most palms grow from a terminal bud out of the top of the tree with some exceptions that branch, including the Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens).

Growing up in Venice, FL my family would often camp along the Myakka River. During nature walks, my dad would find a young Sabal Palm, aka Cabbage Palm. He would cut the new growth which resembled cabbage and my sisters and I would eat it, and - surprisingly enjoyed it. We call this treat Swamp Cabbage down here. You’ve probably eaten it too. They sell it in stores and serve it in restaurants with the entirely more delectable name of Heart-of-Palm.

Sabal Palms are considered one of the hardiest palms and can be found throughout the southeastern United States. In south Florida they’re found in lawns, parking lots, oak forests, cypress swamps, coastal areas and occasionally in the middle of your living room after a hurricane. 

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