Sabal minor, the Dwarf Palmetto.

From the Carolinas to Florida, over to Arkansas and Texas, there is a native palm to the Southeast spread throughout the entire Coastal Plain. Depending on the area, Sabal minor comes in many varieties, some small, some quite robust, and various habits in between.


For Memphis gardeners, it is inspiring to know that the dwarf palmetto is native to within just a few counties south of the area in Mississippi and is also found in Southern Arkansas swamps across the Mississippi River. It has an excellent track record all over the state and there have been many very successful specimens in the Memphis area. They are typically found as accent plants and aren’t often the center of attention. Very, very old dwarf palmettos can form short trunks, but usually they are treated as shrubs and as such can be overlooked by the untrained eye.

The Memphis Botanic Gardens has two clumps of Sabal minor, one pictured above, and the other here below.


This Sabal minor below is an older palm, planted sometime in the late 1990’s in the Central Gardens neighborhood in Memphis. If you look closely, you can see the seed stalk the palm produced in summer 2014. The palm was offered to me in Spring 2015, but I was unable to retrieve it due to the extremely difficult root system and rare historical transplant success rate of Sabal minor. Once they are established, they are almost impossible to move due to the Sabal genus losing all roots that are cut during the transplant process. As the dwarf palmetto does not develop a robust trunk to store enough water and nutrients with which to regrow a new root system, there are very few successful attempts at moving these palms. I decided to leave it in peace.


One of the best examples of Sabal minor can be found in the Wolfchase area in Memphis. There are actually two here, along with a small needle palm to the left. These are very healthy and have a highly desirable blue coloring.


The Sabal minor does well in the hot and humid Southern climates. It can handle swampy conditions or dry areas equally well, though they do like plenty of water. Hardy into the single digits, they are a solid zone 7a palm. I have never seen any of the dwarf palmettos around Memphis take any damage at all during even our hardest winters. They sail through anything our climate has to offer.

I strongly recommend trying these great palms out in your Memphis yard! They do well both as shrubs around larger trees or as lone specimens or clumps as a focal point.


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