Skip to main content

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Florida 4-H Forest Ecology

Cabbage Palm: Identifying Characteristics

Cabbage palm is a medium-sized tree that reaches heights of 60 to 80 feet and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. It has a straight, unbranched trunk with a clump of leaves at the top of the stem. There are usually about 40 living leaves on well-developed crowns. Numerous dead leaves often hang, skirting the trunk beneath the crown of living leaves. The leaf bases (boots) usually persist for several years before crumbling and falling away.

Individual leaves are extremely large, with a petiole 4 to 5 feet long and a blade that can be up to 5 feet long and 5 feet wide. The leaf blade is costapalmate, which means that it has a thickened midrib called a "costa" that runs from the end of the petiole through the length of the blade. The plicatations (folds) in the blade come off both the base and the costa and extend outwards. The costa in a cabbage palm leaf is strongly reflexed, meaning that it bends sharply toward the underside of the leaf. Each petiole is quite long and very stout, reaching 4 to 5 feet in length and 1 to 2 inches wide. Unlike the petiole on the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), the petiole of the cabbage palm is unarmed. As the palm grows, the base of each petiole splits where it meet the trunk, forming a v-shaped gap. The petiole bases can remain on the tree for several years, but they eventually fall off to leave a bare trunk.

Branching is rare among palms but may be present if tree has been damaged (i.e. from lightning, mechanical abrading, or a genetic disorder).

The gray to brown bark has shallow furrows circling the stem and is often covered with persistent, dead leaf bases.

The flowers are bisexual and appear on branched stalks that protrude from the trunk similar distance as that of the leaves or more. These flowers are fragrant.

The fruit is a smooth, round and shiny black drupe ¼ to ¾ inch long in diameter and borne in clusters on long stems. Each drupe contains one small, dark brown seed. 

Similar Plants on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
Saw palmetto is the other palm on the list. Saw palmetto is usually a creeping, branching shrub differing from the slender tree form of cabbage palm. Saw palmetto also has leafstalks armed with small spines along the margins discontinuing at the base of the fan-shaped blades.  

Section Topics