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SPECIES:  Serenoa repens
Creative Commons image by Chris Evans, University of Illinois,


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: [].
ABBREVIATION: SERREP SYNONYMS: Serenoa serrulata Nichols. SCS PLANT CODE: SERE2 COMMON NAMES: saw palmetto TAXONOMY: The scientific name for saw palmetto is Serenoa repens (Bartr.) Small (Arecaceae) [10]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms [24]. LIFE FORM: Tree, Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Serenoa repens
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: 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 [44].
   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


   K079  Palmetto prairie
   K080  Marl - everglades
   K090  Live oak - sea oats
   K092  Everglades
   K112  Southern mixed forest
   K115  Sand pine scrub
   K116  Subtropical pine forest

    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




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 [6]. 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 [4]. Black bears feed on saw palmetto fruit [17] and the young shoots which sprout after winter fires in the Florida flatwoods [16]. White-tailed deer also eat saw palmetto fruit, especially during dry years [13]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: Saw palmetto provides security cover for white-tailed deer in Florida's pine flatwoods [13]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Saw palmetto can be used for watershed protection, erosion control, and phosphate-mine reclamation [6]. 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 [32]. 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 [3,21]. 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 [18]. Saw palmetto control releases palatable grasses and forbs for livestock and deer, and reduces competition with conifers [13]. Mist-blower applications of the herbicide 2,4,5-T provide effective control [19,23], especially when used in conjunction with prescribed burning [3] or other defoliation treatments [23]. Following defoliation by fire or mechanical treatment, saw palmetto should be sprayed when new shoots appear (approximately 6 months later) [38]. Saw palmetto does not regenerate well following mechanical removal [5]. Mechanical disturbance which dislodges, uproots, and cuts saw palmetto stems and rhizomes provides effective control [19]. Roller-drum choppers pulled in tandem at offset angles [13] or perpendicular to each other [28] may reduce saw palmetto cover by 90 percent 2 years after treatment [13]. Chop-rest-chop rotations provide continued range maintenance [18]. When wildlife or cover management goals require saw palmetto enhancement, use rock phosphate fertilizer [28] or site drainage [40] to increase cover.


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: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: 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 [19]. 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 [19]. 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 (2,376/kg) [32]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Saw palmetto grows in a humid, subtropical to warm-temperate climate [19]. 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) [41]. Saw palmetto usually grows on dry, very well-drained soils [2,30], and avoids swamps and poorly drained river terraces [10]. Preferred soils are "sterile" [30] and have very little mineral or organic content, as typified by fine quartose sands [5]. Soil descriptions are not ablsolute. Saw palmetto may also grow on peaty [40] and poorly drained sites [15]. 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) [4,21,30,41]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: A common understory species, saw palmetto is shade tolerent and grows in both sunny and shaded habitats [10]. It is a prominent member of several Southern fire-climax communities and is a frequent invader of very dry [40] or frequently burned [37] habitats. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: 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 October [8,14,32].


SPECIES: Serenoa repens
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Saw palmetto is exceptionally fire resistant [10] and thrives on frequently burned sites. It survives fire by resprouting from persistent root crowns and rhizomes [1,2]. FIRE REGIMES: 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 [33]. 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 [8,38]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY 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 [20]. 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.

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 [20].  Generally,
winter-burned stands recover faster than summer-burned stands because of
the longer period of growth before the next winter dormancy [1].  The
1st year after a fire, stem density can be higher than preburn levels
because of adventitious sprouting [27].  Two or three years later, the
stand thins itself and density and crown coverage become equal to
preburn conditions [20].

Burning reduces flowering and fruiting [19], possibly by causing
saw palmetto to exhaust its carbohydrate reserves in the regeneration
effort.  Recovery of carbohydrate reserves may take a year [20] or
longer [23].

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

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 [40].  Summer
fires are most effective at removing saw palmetto top-growth [18].

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 [7].

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 [36].

Consult Ward [42] 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 [21].

To maintain fruit production for white-tailed deer, Fults [13]
recommends burning saw palmetto understories every 3 to 5 years.


SPECIES: Serenoa repens
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[14812] 28. Lewis, Clifford E. 1980. Rock phosphate, chopping, and fire benefit forage and trees in south Florida. The Florida Cattleman. June: 28-29. [11868] 29. Lyon, L. Jack; Stickney, Peter F. 1976. Early vegetal succession following large northern Rocky Mountain wildfires. In: Proceedings, Tall Timbers fire ecology conference and Intermountain Fire Research Council fire and land management symposium; 1974 October 8-10; Missoula, MT. No. 14. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 355-373. [1496] 30. Monk, Carl D. 1965. Southern mixed hardwood forest of northcentral Florida. Ecological Monographs. 35: 335-354. [9263] 31. Monk, Carl D.; Brown, Timothy W. 1965. Ecological consideration of cypress heads in north-central Florida. American Midland Naturalist. 74: 126-140. [10848] 32. Olson, David F., Jr.; Barnes, R. L. 1974. Serenoa repens (Bartr.) Small saw-palmetto. In: Schopmeyer, C. S., ed. Seeds of woody plants in the United States. Agric. Handb. 450. Washington, DC: U.SS. 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U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior; Range Seeding Equipment Committee. 1959. Handbook: Chemical control of range weeds. Washington, DC: [Publisher unknown]. 93 p. [12129] 39. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982. National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names. SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p. [11573] 40. Wade, Dale; Ewel, John; Hofstetter, Ronald. 1980. Fire in south Florida ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-17. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 125 p. [10363] 41. Wade, Dale D.; Langdon, O. Gordon. 1990. Sabal palmetto (Walt.) Lodd. ex J. A. & J. H. Schult. cabbage palmetto. In: Burns, Russell M.; Honkala, Barbara H., technical coordinators. Silvics of North America. Vol. 2. Hardwoods. Agric. Handb. 654. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: 762-767. [13806] 42. Ward, Darold E. 1983. 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