Sabal minor (Dwarf Palmetto, Bluestem Palmetto)

Forming VERY dense stands in certain southern coastal forest-swamp ecosystems, Dwarf Palmetto are long-lived palms tolerant of many different conditions. After potent natural disasters which reduce canopy cover, such as hurricane Katrina, these produce large leaves to exploit the increased sunlight exposure. These shade out most competing vegetation and presumably inhibit hardwood forest migration upslope with rising sea levels. However, this is speculation and requires more experimentation to occur before conclusive results can positively confirm this hypothesis.

Sabal minor (Dwarf Palmetto, Bluestem Palmetto)
Family: Arecaceae
Subspecies: ‘McCurtain’
Native: southern United States, northern Mexico
Hardiness Zones: 7b-11
Height: to 4 meters tall
Diameter: to 3 meters wide
Root System: very extensive, shallow, dense on lower portion of surface stems (makes up for no secondary growth)
Growth Rate: slow, typically 3 leaves annually
Age: very long-lived, potentially to 250 years old
Deciduous: no
Monoecious/dioecious: monoecious, hermaphroditic flowers
Monocot/dicot: monocot

Tolerates: flooding, dense forest shade, poor drainage, cold (relative to other palms), drought (strongly resistant once established), deer browsing (semi to fully mature leaves, previous browsing may cause static disruptions across the leaf), salt
Problems (major): none
Problems (minor): few, occasional grazing (deer, boars)
Poisonous: presumably no
Soil requirements: requires partially (to almost completely) saturated sandy/loamy/clay soils
Air requirements: rather insignificant effects of pollution on overall health
Watering requirement: moderate to high, flood tolerant
Sun requirement: full sun, tolerant of partial to full shade
Leaves: dark green or blue-green, palmate to costapalmate, typically 4-10 per plant, lacking fibers, petioles lacking teeth/serrations, flexible petioles, pinnae separate easily when moved, normally dissected, petiole to 0.6m, lamina to 1.2m long and wide
Flowering structure: light-green spikes with numerous white-yellow flowers arranged in whorls, strongly fragrant, to 3 meters tall from leaf bases
Flowering frequency: May-June
Fruits: drupes, initially medium green turning black in late summer autumn, 1cm in diameter
Seed dispersal: typically small mammals, primarily birds
Trunk: usually subterranean, rarely above ground (response to excessive flooding) to 2 meters (known as caulescent, trunk-forming), covered with a thick layer of roots (especially when above ground), thickest where leaf bases are still present, orange-brown, to 0.5 meters in diameter
Form: typically compact yet open, more upright in wet conditions
Notable characteristics:
Dwarf Palmettos are very hardy palmettos adapted to a wide range of conditions (including soil conditions, moisture levels, sunlight exposure) in the deep south. The flowers are more sweet than other sections of these palmettos, prompting some creatures to consume bits of the flower spikes.

These have been previously used to create baskets with their fibers. The fruits are thought to be edible, although their consumption is not advised. These are not uncommon in landscapes for their many resistances to pests and environmental stresses.

Sources used:

S. minor fairly spread out in standing mud/water, Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve

Form, rather young palmetto, acaulescent (no above ground trunk)

Upright, caulescent form (very atypical for a relatively dry forested area, note all other palmettos suppressing trunk formation)

S. minor flowers


Trunk covered in roots, remainders of petioles visible

All of the images provided were taken by me. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first. These were all taken on a field work expedition at Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in southern Louisiana.


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