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THE SABAL PALM – Our Tree of Life


Our native sabal palm (Sabal palmetto) is a treasure.  It has been used by the Native Americans for centuries to provide food, shelter and other useful items.  It is considered a “Tree of Life” in their cultures.

An ecosystem in a tree…

“Sabal palm often hosts other plants in its “boots,” including strangler fig, wild grape, Virginia creeper, and a variety of beautiful threatened and endangered ferns. The sabal palm also shelters and supplies nesting material to bats, caracaras, cardinals, crows, doves, flycatchers, gnatcatchers, hawks, hummingbirds, kinglets, mockingbirds, shrikes, wrens, possums, raccoons, squirrels, snakes, tree frogs, lizards, and a variety of insects”. – excerpt from FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) infographic.

Native Passiflora pallens taking root in sabal palm boot. It will continue to grow and climb the tree.  It may have been “planted” by a bird or other animal.


Palm trees are technically not real trees, but related genetically to grasses; think bamboo.  Palms must never be over-pruned.  This is because palm trees absorb nutrients from the fronds that are turning brown, which is an important part of how it obtains essential nutrients.  What does this mean?  It means that sabal palms should be left with a full round head as much as possible, and in a natural setting, do not need pruning at all.  If you must prune off foliage, it should only be completely brown fronds and those that hang below the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock plane.  Anything more than this is considered tree abuse.

These palms are over pruned. Never let a tree service do this to your palm trees. It will weaken them, making them more susceptible to disease.

Sabal palms should have a full, round head. Notice that the lower fronds form a straight 9 o’clock, 3 o’clock horizontal line, like outstretched arms.


Over pruning and removing the “boots” also removes the habitat of plants and beneficial wildlife, so don’t remove them.  They are a great place to observe nature.  Just remember that the boots will fall off over time.  These boots are great for mounting orchids, and for other interesting craft ideas.

Tillandsia mounted to a fallen boot.

Sabal palm flowers are a favorite of honeybees and make delicious and abundant honey.


Unfortunately, in recent years, sabal palms have fallen victim to Lethal Bronzing Disease, (formerly called Texas Phoenix Palm Decline), which is decimating the population both in the wild and in cultivation.

Classic signs of Lethal Bronzing Disease.

Be aware of Lethal Bronzing Disease signs and call a tree specialist if you are not sure.. LBD can spread rapidly and can only be treated BEFORE signs appear.  For more information on identifying and treating LBD (Lethal Bronzing Disease) and proper palm pruning, please click the following links:

Identification of Lethal Bronzing

Insect Vector

How to Test for Lethal Bronzing

Proper Palm Pruning

Sabal Palm Infographic




6 Comments on “THE SABAL PALM – Our Tree of Life

  1. Thanks for the info. We have been injecting trees for many years as a prevention method for lethal yellowing and continue to do so and have told our clients we are doing the same for lethal bronzing Any additional info you can send is appreciated

    • Hi Michael, thank you for your comment. I have given you the most up to date links at the end of the article. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do. However, since the vector is an insect that pupates under the soil, using beneficial nematodes around the target palms may be helpful in lowering the numbers of these insects that spread the disease from tree to tree. You can find beneficial nematodes at many suppliers on line that sell beneficial insects. Hope this helps.

  2. Donna,

    Another excellent article. Our native Sabal palms ae the most hurricane resistant of all our palms. In addition they provide great wildlife benefits.
    Wildlife and Ecology: Provides
    significant food and cover for wildlife.Larval host for monk skipper (Asbolis capucinus) butterflies. Nectar plant for eastern pygmy blue (Brephidiumisophthalma), southern hairstreak
    (Fixsenia favonius) and other butterflies.Attracts bee pollinnators. Birds and other
    animals eat the fruits.

  3. Good one, this post is really a guide for pruning techniques with profound knowledge! We have a small backyard and we are planning to carry out landscaping work especially the pruning task. We have contacted several local contractors for quotes and finally set up a consultation with one near RI area. Tom and his team would come to our house and provide his guidance and service to get the job done within our budget on tree removal ri. Hope that our backyard would look good and we couldn’t wait to see the outcome