Description: Large shrub or rarely a small tree. Trunks usually creeping along the ground but sometimes becoming erect, almost always branching and forming large patches. Leaves fan-shaped, stiff, with numerous sharp teeth on the stems (petiole), green or bluish-green.
Dimensions: About 4-6 feet in height; to 15 feet in the wild. Usually broader than tall.
Growth Rate: Very slow to slow.
Southeastern United States south to the Monroe County Keys. Very rare in the upper Monroe County Keys and apparently very rare or absent in the middle Keys. For a digitized image of Elbert Little's Florida range map, visit the Exploring Florida website.
Soils: Moist to dry or seasonally wet, well-drained to moderately well-drained sandy or limestone soils, with or without humusy top layer.
Nutritional Requirements: Low to moderate; it can grow in nutrient poor soils or soils with some organic content.
Salt Water Tolerance: Moderately low; does not tolerate long-term flooding by salt or brackish water, but tolerates short term inunation by salt water from storm surge with minimal damage.
Salt Wind Tolerance: Secondary line; tolerates significant salt wind without injury, but usually is somewhat protected.
Drought Tolerance: High; does not require any supplemental water once established.
Light Requirements: Full sun to light shade.
Flower Color: White or creamy white.
Flower Characteristics: Semi-showy when at peak. Fragrant.
Flowering Season: All year; peak in summer.
Fruit: Blue-black drupe. Summer-fall.
Wildlife and Ecology: Provides significant food and cover for wildlife. Larval host plant for monk skipper (Asbolis capucinus) and palmetto skipper (Euphyes arpa) butterflies. Nectar plant for Bartram's scrub-hairstreak (Strymon acis), atala (Eumaes atala) and other pollinators. A variety of animals eat the fruits, including deer, bear and turkey.
Horticultural Notes: Can be grown from de-pulped seed. Scatter seeds on surface of soil and barely cover. Place container in light shade to full sun. Germination may take 6 weeks or more.
References: Neslon 2003, Schaefer & Tanner 1997
Comments: Plants with silverish foliage, most common along the coasts but also found in the interior, are sold as silver saw palmetto (Serenoa repens ‘Silver’ or ‘Cinerea’)
Copyright by: George D. Gann
Copyright by: James Johnson, 2014 In habitat, Everglades National Park, Florida