Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Van Deelen, Timothy R. 1991. Serenoa repens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
Serenoa serrulata Nichols.
SCS PLANT CODE:
The scientific name for saw palmetto is Serenoa repens (Bartr.) Small
(Arecaceae) . There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
Saw palmetto is endemic to peninsular Florida and the coastal plains
from southeastern Louisiana to southern South Carolina [10,19].
|Distribution map from USGS:
1977 USDA, Forest Service map provided by Thompson and others .
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
FRES41 Wet grasslands
AL FL GA LA MS SC
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K079 Palmetto prairie
K080 Marl - everglades
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K112 Southern mixed forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
K116 Subtropical pine forest
SAF COVER TYPES:
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
74 Cabbage palmetto
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
105 Tropical hardwoods
111 South Florida slash pine
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES:
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
WOOD PRODUCTS VALUE:
Saw palmetto stems provide crude logs and have been used for pulp,
although the quality of the paper produced is poor [32,38].
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Although occasionally eaten by cattle, saw palmetto has little value as
livestock forage and is a rangeland pest [18,19].
Saw palmetto helps provide primary habitat for the wildlife of southern
Florida's palmetto prairies. Distinctive species include the crested
caracara, the Florida burrowing owl, and the Florida sandhill crane .
As a member of scrub communities, saw palmetto provides essential
habitat for sand skinks, the Florida mouse, and a variety of birds,
including the Florida scrub jay--a threatened subspecies . Black
bears feed on saw palmetto fruit  and the young shoots which sprout
after winter fires in the Florida flatwoods . White-tailed deer
also eat saw palmetto fruit, especially during dry years .
Saw palmetto provides security cover for white-tailed deer in Florida's
pine flatwoods .
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Saw palmetto can be used for watershed protection, erosion control, and
phosphate-mine reclamation .
OTHER USES AND VALUES:
A drug called serenoa can be derived from the partially dried, ripe
fruits of saw palmetto and used to treat bladder, prostate, and urethra
infections. Bees collect nectar from the flowers to produce honey .
Saw palmetto leaves provide thatch and Christmas decorations. Saw
palmetto stems are a source of tannin acid extract and can be processed
into a cork substitute [32,38].
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Saw palmetto is a pest and fire hazard in Southern timber stands. It
contributes large amounts of combustible fuel to forest understories and
competes with pines (Pinus spp.) for moisture, nutrients, and space
Silvicultural and range management objectives often call for
saw palmetto control. Centuries of open range, abusive burning, and
excessive grazing have converted many flatwood-bluestem (Andropogon
spp.) ranges into flatwood-saw palmetto ranges . Saw palmetto
control releases palatable grasses and forbs for livestock and deer, and
reduces competition with conifers . Mist-blower applications of the
herbicide 2,4,5-T provide effective control [19,23], especially when
used in conjunction with prescribed burning  or other defoliation
treatments . Following defoliation by fire or mechanical treatment,
saw palmetto should be sprayed when new shoots appear (approximately 6
months later) .
Saw palmetto does not regenerate well following mechanical removal .
Mechanical disturbance which dislodges, uproots, and cuts saw palmetto
stems and rhizomes provides effective control . Roller-drum
choppers pulled in tandem at offset angles  or perpendicular to each
other  may reduce saw palmetto cover by 90 percent 2 years after
treatment . Chop-rest-chop rotations provide continued range
When wildlife or cover management goals require saw palmetto
enhancement, use rock phosphate fertilizer  or site drainage  to
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Saw palmetto usually grows as a small shrub with creeping, horizontal,
many-branched stems. Occasionally it grows as a small tree with erect
or oblique stems. As a shrub, it grows to a height of 2 to 7 feet
(0.6-2.1 m). As a tree, it may reach 20 to 25 feet (6.0-7.5 m). In its
procumbent form, saw palmetto branches form a tangled mass, with the
root crown projecting above to support the foliage. The stem systems
run parallel to the soil surface, eventually branching beneath the
substrate to form rhizomes.
Saw palmetto leaves are fan-shaped, evergreen and about 3 feet (1 m)
wide. The petioles are armed with sharp spines, giving saw palmetto its
common name. The white, perfect flowers are borne on stalked panicles
that grow from the leaf axils. The fruit is a fleshy, elipsoid drupe,
which is green or yellow before ripening but becomes bluish or black as
it matures [10,15,26,32].
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
Vegetative: Saw palmetto sprouts from horizontal stems and rhizomes.
Sexual: Saw palmetto flowers are insect pollinated. Extensive wildlife
use of saw palmetto fruit suggests that its seeds are animal dispersed.
The fruit endocarp and seed coat are impermeable to oxygen. Germination
may be delayed 4 to 6 months while these tissues deteriorate . The
soil characteristics required for germination are unknown.
Seedling growth and early development are slow. Establishment requires
2 to 6 years. Flooding prevents establishment on wet sites, and
saturated soils retard seedling root development during the summer rainy
season. Seedlings are vulnerable to competition, drought, and fire
In the nursery, saw palmetto may be propagated by seed. Ripe fruit can
be collected by hand-picking or by cutting the fruit-bearing panicle,
and seeds extracted with a macerator. Commercial sources of
saw palmetto seeds are often available. Seeds with the micropyle cap
removed will germinate in 11 days; those with the micropyle cap intact
may require 45 to 60 days. Dried seeds average 1,080 per pound
Saw palmetto grows in a humid, subtropical to warm-temperate climate
. Within its range, the average annual rainfall is 39 to 64 inches
(100-163 cm). The average maximum and minimum temperatures range from
97 to 25 degrees F (36 to minus 4 deg C) .
Saw palmetto usually grows on dry, very well-drained soils [2,30], and
avoids swamps and poorly drained river terraces . Preferred soils
are "sterile"  and have very little mineral or organic content, as
typified by fine quartose sands . Soil descriptions are not
ablsolute. Saw palmetto may also grow on peaty  and poorly drained
Saw palmetto is a common understory shrub of Southern pine flatwoods,
growing on the Miami rock ridge pinelands, the dry pineland portions of
Big Cypress National Preserve, and commercial plantations [9,35,40].
Elsewhere, it is a codominanant in hardwood- and conifer-dominated scrub
communities [4,8,26,37]. In the Everglades region, saw palmetto is the
most common understory shrub in high hammocks and forms a characteristic
ring around cypress (Taxodium spp.) heads and burnt-over tree islands.
[11,31,37,40]. Strand, dry prairies, and southern oak (Quercus
spp.)-pine (Pinus spp.) types indicate other sites where saw palmetto
might be common [8,35].
Common overstory associates include slash pine (Pinus elliottii), south
Florida slash pine (P. elliottii var. densa), pond pine (P. serotina),
longleaf pine (P. palustris), sand pine (P. clausa), loblolly pine (P.
taeda), and cabbage palmetto (Sabel palmetto). Understory associates
include gallberry (Ilex glabra), scrub live oak (Quercus virginiana var.
geminata), scrub oak (Q. chapmanii), myrtle oak (Q. myrtlifolia),
shrubby rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides), scrub palmetto (Sabel etonia),
scrub mint (Conradina grandiflora), blazing star (Liatris tenuifolia),
pawpaw (Asimina reticulata), scrub clover (Petalostemon feayi), ground
blueberry (Vaccinuim myrsinites), and dodder (Cassytha filiformis)
A common understory species, saw palmetto is shade tolerent and grows in
both sunny and shaded habitats . It is a prominent member of
several Southern fire-climax communities and is a frequent invader of
very dry  or frequently burned  habitats.
Saw palmetto blooms between April and July [10,19,32]. Maximum spadix
initiation begins after the danger of frost is past and may be
stimulated by rising temperatures. The fruits ripen in September and
October. Maximum saw palmetto growth occurs during the summer rainy
season, achieving 80 percent of annual production between April and
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Saw palmetto is exceptionally fire resistant  and thrives on
frequently burned sites. It survives fire by resprouting from
persistent root crowns and rhizomes [1,2].
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
survivor species; on-site surviving rhizomes
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Saw palmetto has very flammable foliage . Most fires defoliate and
top-kill it [1,3]. Saw palmetto rhizomes survive most fires. Unusually
severe fires may consume the soil's organic layer and/or sufficiently
expose and heat the rhizomes to kill them and prevent regeneration
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Saw palmetto responds to fire by sprouting soon after fire [8,18,19].
Drawing on carbohydrate stores in the rhizomes, it initiates leaf
production and vegetative reproduction, increasing stem density .
The response is so strong that winter-burned saw palmetto will break
winter dormancy and produce leaves and fruit out of season [1,19].
|Saw-palmetto postfire sprouts. Creative Commons photo by Daniel Oines.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
Recovery of burned saw palmetto stands is rapid. Cover may return to
preburn levels in as little as 1 year [1,19], and plants burned in
November can sprout a fully expanded leaf by January . Generally,
winter-burned stands recover faster than summer-burned stands because of
the longer period of growth before the next winter dormancy . The
1st year after a fire, stem density can be higher than preburn levels
because of adventitious sprouting . Two or three years later, the
stand thins itself and density and crown coverage become equal to
preburn conditions .
Burning reduces flowering and fruiting , possibly by causing
saw palmetto to exhaust its carbohydrate reserves in the regeneration
effort. Recovery of carbohydrate reserves may take a year  or
Frequent burning may favor the procumbent growth form over the erect one
This Management Project Summary provides information on prescribed fire
and postfire response of plant community species including saw palmetto:
Fire effects on 3 subtropical invasive plants in Florida and the
Caribbean-Natal grass, common bamboo, and white leadtree
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Saw palmetto is well adapted to fire, making it difficult to control.
It can be held in check using fire, but it remains vigorous and recovers
[40,22]. Very short fire-rotations (1 to 3 years) perpetuate
saw palmetto understories and kill pine seedlings on palmetto-prairies
which might otherwise support well-stocked pine stands . Summer
fires are most effective at removing saw palmetto top-growth .
The effects of fire suppression on saw palmetto depends on the plant
communities it occupies. Fire suppression may decrease saw palmetto
cover in scrub communities where other understory hardwoods can overtop
it. In contrast, suppression, long rotations, and light fires cause
Southern pinelands to become overgrown with saw palmetto .
Overgrown saw palmetto understories constitute fire hazards, which
promote wildfires that may kill pine seedlings and saplings [8,40].
Tall saw palmetto understories also carry wildfires into the overstory,
killing mature trees [33,36]. Saw palmetto is the largest contributor
to understory fuels in the Florida pinelands .
Consult Ward  to predict particulate matter emmision rates from
fireline intensity and flame length for prescribed fires in the
saw palmetto-gallberry type. Saw palmetto foliage yields 2,150,000
calories per pound (4,800 dcCal/g) and is 34 percent ash .
To maintain fruit production for white-tailed deer, Fults 
recommends burning saw palmetto understories every 3 to 5 years.
SPECIES: Serenoa repens
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