Sabal etonia

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Sabal (SAH-bahl)
etonia (eh-toh-NEE-ah)
Riverside CA. Photo by Geoff Stein.
Scientific Classification
Genus: Sabal (SAH-bahl)
etonia (eh-toh-NEE-ah)
Sabal megacarpa (1903)
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Costapalmate, with recurving leaf
Survivability index
Common names
Scrub Palmetto

Habitat and Distribution

Sabal etonia is Native to central and southeastern in the elevated central scrublands
Sabal etonia flr800.jpg
of Florida, in dry sandy soils that have a supply of water at depth, as part of the understorey in sand pine and oak scrub communities. Scrub palmetto occurs naturally only on well-drained sandy ridges in peninsular Florida. It is usually associated with saw palmetto, scrubby oaks (>Quercus spp.) and Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides). Scrub palmetto is a characteristic plant of the Florida scrub, an endangered plant community that is restricted to Florida.


Scrub palmetto is a small shrub-like palm whose trunk usually remains underground. The fan-shaped leaves are about 3 ft (0.9 m) across and costapalmate, which means that they are essentially palmate (fan shaped), except that the petiole (leaf stem) extends part way through the center of the leaf fan as a midrib. Scrub palmetto will grow up to 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall with a spread of 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m). Under garden conditions scrub palm is a more robust grower reaching to 6 ft (1.8 m) in height. The small white flowers are fragrant and held in great numbers on a long stalk that does not extend beyond the leaves. These are followed by 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) fleshy fruits that turn black when ripe. ( Editing by edric.

Solitary, subterranean, rarely growing upright to 2 m tall. Leaves: Strongly costapalmate, induplicate (recurving), blade curved by costa, yellow green segments stiff and split almost to the base of the blade with fibers between segments, tips bifid; petiole unarmed. Flowers and fruits: Inflorescence densely branched to two orders, shorter than or about as long as the leaves. When ripe, fruits are spherical to ovoid, brown or black drupes, 9-13 mm long.

The scrub palmetto, along with the dwarf palmetto, has a subterranean stem that is frequently S-shaped or contorted; the crown bud is held below the soil surface. The height of this palm varies from 3 to 4 feet, and there are generally 5 to 8 living palm leaves present at any given time. The leaf blades are simple with deep, palmate lobes and bifurcate (Y-shaped split) tips. The inflorescence is half as long or as long as the leaves and bears small, white flowers in the spring. The flowers are followed by small, shiny black berries, that are 0.9–1.5 centimetres (0.4–0.6 in) and 0.8–1.3 centimetres (0.3–0.5 in) in diameter.. (


Soils: Moist to dry, well-drained sandy soils, with or without humus. Nutritional Requirements: Low to moderate; it can grow in nutrient poor soils or soils with some organic content. Salt Water Tolerance: Low; does not tolerate flooding by salt or brackish water. Salt Wind Tolerance: Low; salt wind may burn the leaves. Drought Tolerance: High; does not require any supplemental water once established. Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade. Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure. Cold Hardiness Zone: 8b

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!

Phenology: Flowering Season: Spring-summer. Flower Characteristics: Semi-showy inflorescence. Flower Color: Creamy white. Fruit: Globose bluish-black berry.

Wildlife and Ecology: Provides significant food and cover for wildlife. Larval host for monk skiller (Asbolis capucinus) butterflies. Nectar plant for butterflies. Birds and other animals eat the fruits. Scrub palmetto resembles saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), but the latter has a true palmate leaf with no midrib. Another trait that distinguishes saw palmetto from scrub palm are the small sawlike teeth along the edges of the petiole which inspire its common name.

Diagnostic features: Solitary, unarmed, usually subterranean palm with strongly costapalmate, yellow green leaves with marginal fibers. Inflorescence sparsely branched to two orders, shorter than or about as long as the leaves.

Scrub Palmetto (Sabal etonia) is native and endemic to the dry sandy sites and Florida Scrub habitats of much of north-central and central Florida and parts of southeastern Florida (zones 8b to 10b). It is often confused with the more widespread and also native Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens). However, Scrub Palmetto generally is shorter than the Saw Palmetto. Also, the fronds of the Scrub Palmetto generally do not have as sharp spines as the Saw Palmetto or may not have any spines at all. The flower stalk of Sabal etonia (Scrub Palmetto) also does not extend as much as Serenoa repens (Saw Palmetto).

Often cofused with Sabal minor, but its leaves are gray-green and not recurving, without marginal fibers, and its inflorescence exceeds the leaves in length. In addition, Sabal etonia is a scrub plant while Sabal minor is found in swamps and marsh areas. (The Institute for Regional Conservation. Delray Beach, Florida.)

Sabal etoniahas a trunk with the growing bud tip remain below ground, safe from fires that periodically sweep through the Florida Scrub community. After total defoliation by fire, scrub palm begins sprouting new leaves within 2 days. (

A low growing Sabal, often with a subterranean, or, at best, shortly erect trunk. It is frequently seen on waste ground and vacant lots, though there are significant populations in various national parks, in central and southern Florida. Its small, bushy appearance and its tough and hardy character makes it a very suitable choice for the smaller temperate garden. (

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, 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.

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