| Sabal (SAH-bahl) |
Matheson Hammock in Miami-Dade County in Coral Gables. Photo by Kyle Wicomb.
Habitat and DistributionSabal bermudana is endemic to Bermuda. This tree is found island-wide in upland and
Sabal bermudana grows up to 25 m (82 ft) in height, with the occasional old tree growing up to 30 m (98 ft) in height, with a trunk up to 55 cm (22 in) in diameter. It is a fan palm (Arecaceae tribe Corypheae), with the leaves with a bare petiole terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets. Each leaf is 1.5–2 m (4.9–6.6 ft) long, with 45-60 leaflets up to 75 cm (30 in) long. The flowers are yellowish-white, 5 mm (0.20 in) across, produced in large panicles up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) long, extending out beyond the leaves. The fruit is a deep brown to black drupe about 1 cm (0.39 in) long containing a single seed. It is extremely salt-tolerant and is often seen growing near the Atlantic Ocean coast in Bermuda, and also frost-tolerant, surviving short periods of temperatures as low as -14 °C, although it will never get that cold in Bermuda. Editing by edric.
Sabal bermudana is a slow growing evergreen palm tree with a single stem. Its mid green leaves are arranged in a fan shape composed of up to 60 leaflets and up to 2 m long. Each leaflet is up to 1 m long. Its trunk may achieve a diameter of up to 55 cm. Its yellow/ white flowers are up to 5 mm across and are arranged in panicles which are up to 2.5 m long. Its dark brown/ black fruit is a drupe and is up to 1cm long.
A very easy and adaptable palm that will grow in temperate areas just as well as in the tropics and can take a good amount of frost and cold. Cold Hardiness Zone: 9a. Reported little damage to -10 C.
Comments and Curiosities
This is a tillering palm, it exhibits saxophone style root growth (it has a heel), keep top third of heel above soil elevation!
Etymology: The etymological root of the binomial name Sabal is probably derived from the Native American name for this palm. Bermudana is derived from the Latin meaning ‘from Bermuda’.
Phenology: Flowering period; Early summer.
Uses: Leaflets of the palm are used to weave hats, and export them to the United Kingdom and other countries. Sabal bermudana also had a hole drilled into its trunk, and the sap extracted to make "bibby", a strong alcoholic beverage. During the 19th century, most houses in Bermuda still had palmetto-thatched roofs. Historically the leaves of this species have been used for a variety of purposes including the making of thatch, rope, baskets, hats and fans. Historically the fruits were used to make an alcoholic drink known as Bibey. It is widely grown as an ornamental.
Conservation: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T38691A101378743. Listed as endangered. The only endemic palm of Bermuda, Sabal bermudana was first assessed as Endangered by Johnson in 1998, due to its limited geographic range, the condition of its habitat and the number of locations and/or subpopulations. Since 1998, significant conservation work has been carried out to propagate this species and plant seedlings in suitable sites. In addition there is ongoing work to remove invasive plants where they are encroaching upon endemic species. Despite these efforts the wild population is still declining and the threats to this species remain, and due to its restricted range, and the fragmented nature of the plant subpopulations this species remains assessed as Endangered.
This species is endemic to Bermuda and is found as individual plants or in small groups in a patchy island-wide distribution. The maximum extent of occurrence (EOO) is estimated to be 148 km2 and the maximum area of occupancy (AOO) is estimated to be 71 km2 based on a 1x1 km2 grid cell (justified due to the small size of the islands). However the maximum AOO includes planted individuals in landscaped habitats and therefore the AOO for the wild population is less than 71 km2. The species is judged to be severely fragmented as more than half of its total AOO is in habitat patches smaller than would be required in order to maintain viable populations in the long term. Continuing decline in the area, extent, and quality of the habitat of this species is observed in Bermuda, due to encroaching development and invasive species.
In the past this palm grew in significant numbers as Palmetto forest in parts of the island. Surviving patches of Palmetto forest can be found at Paget Marsh and Butterfield Nature Reserves. After experiencing significant declines due to habitat loss for development and the encroachment of invasive species, the overall population is beginning to recover as it has been widely planted in parks, nature reserves, gardens, golf courses and as street trees (Department of Environment and Natural Resources Bermuda 2016). The current wild and cultivated/semi-cultivated population is 3,609 mature individuals. However the wild population remains in decline with a continuing decline observed in area, extent and quality of habitat habitat due to the impact of development and invasive species. The number of mature wild individuals has been observed to be declining, as older individuals occurring in marshy habitat close to the sea are also beginning to be affected by sea level rise.
This species is the island's only endemic palm. It occurs throughout the island and is found in all habitats except the most saline. It can be confused with the Chinese Fan Palm Livistona chinensis which grows in similar habitats. Ripe fruits provide food for birds and other animals (Department of Environment and Natural Resources 2016).
The major threats to this species are loss of habitat due to development and competition from a host of invasive species such as Livistona chinensis, Schinus terebinthifolia, Eugenia uniflora and Pimenta dioica. The invasive species Ficus microcarpa and Schefflera actinophylla are of particular concern as these plants grow on top of and eventually shade out and topple older palms.
Of the 3,609 mature individuals known in the wild and in cultivation/semi-cultivation, 75% (2,710) are found in protected areas. There are living collections of this species at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (M. Corcoran pers. comm. 2016) and also three seed collections, (in total around 3,000 seeds which exhibit good germination when tested), held in the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew (T. Heller pers. comm. 2016). The Bermuda Department of Environment and Natural Resources have produced a poster to differentiate this endemic Sabal species from the invasive Livistona chinensis to educate the public about the importance of the Sabal in Bermuda, and propagated plants are widely available from local plant nurseries. (IUCN Red List)
Bermuda Palmettos grow to 35 feet (10.5 m) high. The leaf stalk projects about halfway into the leaf in a V-shape which distinguishes it from the invasive Chinese Fan Palm. Also the leaf stalk of the Bermuda Palmetto never has spines or thorns. Bermuda Palmettos also have an attractive bright yellow patch around the stalk in the middle of the leaf. The dark green leaves are quite firm and hold up well in Bermuda’s windy weather.
They produce sprays of small yellowish white flowers in the spring. The fragrant flowers are pollinated by insects and mature into large clusters of fruit. These are round, bright green berries which become purplish black as they ripen in the autumn. Each berry contains a single large seed. The fleshy fruit of the Bermuda Palmetto provides food for a number of birds and other animals. The palmetto has a fibrous crown around the base of the leaves which provides habitat for insects and nesting material for birds.
Forests of Bermuda Palmetto once occurred in parts of Bermuda. Small surviving patches can be seen in nature reserves at Paget Marsh, and the Butterfield Nature Reserve in Point Shares. Palmetto forests provided important habitat for other endemic plants such as Bermuda Sedge, Bermuda Spike Rush, Campylopus moss and other rare plants like the native Psilotum. There is evidence that palmetto forests and mixed palmetto/cedar forests have occurred on Bermuda for thousands of years. Fossilized palm fronds can be seen on cliff faces at several sites along the coast, and fossilized roots and the holes created by palmetto stumps can be seen in rock formations around the island.
The Bermuda Palmetto is culturally a very important tree to Bermudians and has been exceptionally useful throughout the island’s 400 year history. The fibrous leaves of the Palmetto were historically used to make baskets, hats, fans, roof thatch and rope. The fruit of the Palmetto was used to make an alcoholic beverage called Bibey.
Today Bermuda Palmettos are frequently propagated and are available from most plant nurseries. They have been widely planted in parks and nature reserves, as well as in gardens, on golf courses and as street trees. (Government of Bermuda)
While generally similar to the closely related S. palmetto, this medium-sized, robust, stocky species, which is native only to the Island of Bermuda, forms a sturdy trunk that will rarely reach more than 10 m (33 ft.) tall. In addition, the broad, rigid leaf segments, the leaf blade split to only to about half its length, and the comparatively large, slightly pear-shaped fruits readily distinguish this palm. Sabal bermudana is still occasionally seen in cultivation under the names S. beccariana, S. princeps or S. blackburniana. (RPS.com)
- Glossary of Palm Terms
- MODERN BOTANICAL LATIN
- "Just To Be Clear"
- Video by krisachar
- THE SAXOPHONE STYLE ROOT GROWTH (HEEL)
Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.
Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.
Special thanks to Palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.
Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.