In Praise of Cabbage Palms

Looking up

Looking up to the Heart of the Palm

One of the pleasures of living in Florida is waking up almost any morning, walking out into my backyard to watch the soft yellow sunlight illuminate the canopy of the Cabbage Palm rendering its shadows almost russet. The much maligned but indestructible Cabbage Palm.  I have no idea how old this palm is but I am certain no one planted it. A native of the peninsula, the state tree of Florida and perhaps the most common Palm in the state it will always have a place in my heart.

I have always referred to these as Sabal Palms; because of their botanical name – Palmetto sabal. They are called Cabbage Palms in reference to Swamp Cabbage, which in culinary terms is Hearts of Palm. I love Hearts of Palm but rarely eat it as a Palm tree gave its life for my salad. Palms are monocots, more closely related to grass than trees and only have one growing point, the apical meristem, botanically speaking. If this is removed the entire tree dies. The growing point is in the middle of the fronds, hence the name Hearts of Palm. Have a heart, save a Palm tree’s life and go for the artichokes instead.

These Palms usually attain a height of 30 feet, but can grow up to 60 feet tall. Cabbage Palms are not self cleaning and need trimming to maintain a neat appearance. Or just leave it untrimmed and say it is a bat habitat to control the mosquito population. That would be true. Just stay in the house during high winds.

Native Americans used these Palms for many things, roof thatch from the fronds, brooms and brushes from the sisally parts of the boot, the trunks were used for pilings in the water and bread was made from the seeds.  However , they did not eat the hearts..until Europeans arrived with metal tools. If you had been eating palm seed bread, I am betting the Hearts of Palm seemed really tasty.


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