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Valhallalla

Trunkless flowering Sabal palms of the Everglades

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Valhallalla

What are they?

There are Sabal palms in the Everglades that flower without having a visible above ground stem or trunk. At first glance they appear to be basic younger Sabal palmetto except that they don't seem to develop much of a trunk and will flower with no trunk at all.

I first noticed them along the main road in Everglades National Park. I realized that none of these Sabals had the 10-20 foot trunks and dandelion/lollipop appearance of typical palmettos. On subsequent visits I noticed them in the pinelands habitat of the park where they grow in the understory along with Serenoa repens. These palms flower with no evident trunk and the trunks that do develop are only a few feet tall.

I have also noticed these flowering trunkless sabals in other areas of the Everglades outside of the national park. They exist along Loop Road off of Tamiami Trail in Monroe County. A few days ago we were in the area of Grossman Hammock and Chekika Park in western Miami-Dade County. In this area there were trunkless flowering palms along with some "typical" trunked palmettos and many examples in between.

Examining the inflorescences I find that on the trunkless palms the inflorescences seem to remain shorter than the leaves. They mostly branch to two orders but sometimes three orders. The ones that do branch to three orders usually have two and three orders on the same inflorescence. I recently noticed that the smaller palms without trunk generally have only two orders of branching. The ones with three orders tend to be larger and older and more likely to have some trunk. I haven't found these to be hard and fast rules though.

In attempting to identify these palms I have referred to Scott Zona's 1990 monograph on the genus Sabal:

https://scholarship.claremont.edu/aliso/vol12/iss4/2/

and "Sorting Out Florida Sabal Palms":

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FR357

There are said to be four native species of palms in the genus Sabal in Florida. Going by the above papers these Sabals in question can't be S palmetto since S palmetto does not flower until a trunk is present. Sabal minor only grows further north from here and is much less costapalmate. Sabal miamiensis has inflorescences with three order branching that extend beyond the leaves.

This leaves Sabal etonia as the remaining possibility which largely seems to fit. However, the range of S etonia is described as central Florida ridge and SE Florida coastal ridge. If they are S etonia they are existing far from the range they are said to come from. If they are not S etonia then what are they? S miamiensis? Some variation on S palmetto which can be quite variable? 

In the pineland habitat of Everglades National Park:

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This one has some above ground trunk. This is about as much trunk as they seem to get.

unNBiy6.jpg

Lotsa costa:

8WB8lWt.jpg

The pine habitat again with some Serenoa. No tall Sabals in here:

cnLtQbf.jpg

Happily flowering after a recent burn:

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Flowering along Research Road in the park:

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Along Loop Road in Monroe County mixed with some Serenoa:

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Along Loop Road:

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Messy inflorescence:

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Probably the smallest one I've found flowering. It is right next to the road and has been whacked by mowing equipment a few times.

No, it is not a silver variant, just covered in dust from the unpaved road:

Vh73d7H.jpg

Near Grossman Hammock in western Miami-Dade County:

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I've seen a few that appear to be "walking" though this one may have been knocked over by a truck or something. It does like it has a heel:

a4p4TC4.jpg

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Like so many Sabals they can be weedy:

un3eHua.jpg

 

 

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Palmarum

Interesting research idea and excellent photos.

Sabal palmetto's seem to flower based on age, not always their height. I do remember reading somewhere (or attending a talk or meeting) that smaller S. palmetto specimens that survive fire tend to flower soon after, as a sort of reaction. They also may be disfigured and damaged and may not be able to produce a normal trunk from then on. Like many palms, Sabals are champion survivors and are built to adapt to almost any situation; and keep on flowering. I always notice S. palmettos growing in impossible spots where they have flowered while very small, typically wedged between sidewalks, highway dividers, concrete, etc. with no stem at all or short, skinny trunks.

Ryan

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chad2468emr

I also consistently observed these trunkless, stubby little sabals when I’d lived in south Florida and would journey into the ‘glades. Unsure if the subtle nuances would have fit your description exactly, but I’d just assumed they were sabal minor or a sabal palmetto that wasn’t really doing it’s best, but still giving it the college try. That being said, Sabals are a genus that I admittedly know very little about because they’ve never really appealed to me outside of causiarum given it’s size. 

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Fusca
4 hours ago, Palmarum said:

Interesting research idea and excellent photos.

Sabal palmetto's seem to flower based on age, not always their height. I do remember reading somewhere (or attending a talk or meeting) that smaller S. palmetto specimens that survive fire tend to flower soon after, as a sort of reaction. They also may be disfigured and damaged and may not be able to produce a normal trunk from then on. Like many palms, Sabals are champion survivors and are built to adapt to almost any situation; and keep on flowering. I always notice S. palmettos growing in impossible spots where they have flowered while very small, typically wedged between sidewalks, highway dividers, concrete, etc. with no stem at all or short, skinny trunks.

Ryan

Interesting point regarding the flowering after a fire.  @jimmyt has a large Sabal palmetto that started flowering almost simultaneously after starting to push new growth following sub-zero temps back in February.  Seems like there's a strong urge to propagate following near death experiences.

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Steve in Florida

Thanks for your pics and observations.  I would consider them essentially variants of Sabal etonia.  They are not traditional, pure Sabal palmettos.  Their trunks resemble those found on trunking Sabal minor, but with reduced girth.  They remind me of the diversity of Sabal minor var louisiana whose offspring are composed of roughly 96% non-trunking individuals or extremely slow to generate a trunk and 4% rapid trunk generating individuals. 

Could you locate any seeds and if so were they slightly larger than those from Sabal palmetto?

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