Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 290 Sabal etonia

Common Names: scrub palm, scrub palmetto Family: Arecacea (palm Family)
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scrub palm
This is a natural stand of Sabal etonia growing in the Florida Scrub plant community in Central Florida.


Scrub palm is a small shrub-like palm whose trunk usually remains underground. The fan-shaped leaves are about 3 ft (0.9 m) across and costapalmate, which means that they are essentially palmate (fan shaped) except that the petiole (leaf stem) extends part way through the center of the leaf fan as a midrib. Scrub palm will grow up to 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) tall with a spread of 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m). Under garden conditions scrub palm is a more robust grower reaching to 6 ft (1.8 m) in height. The small white flowers are fragrant and held in great numbers on a long stalk that does not extend beyond the leaves. These are followed by 0.6 inch (1.5 cm) fleshy fruits that turn black when ripe.

Scrub palm resembles saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), but the latter has a true palmate leaf with no midrib. Another trait that distinguishes saw palmetto from scrub palm are the small sawlike teeth along the edges of the petiole which inspire its common name.


Scrub palm occurs naturally only on well-drained sandy ridges in peninsular Florida. It is usually associated with saw palmetto, scrubby oaks (>Quercus spp.) and Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides). Scrub palm is a characteristic plant of the Florida scrub, an endangered plant community that is restricted to Florida.


Once established, scrub palm is easy to maintain and can thrive in the leanest sandy soils. It needs no supplemental watering and is basically disease and pest-free. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Drought tolerant. Regular watering and light applications of fertilizer accelerate growth. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 10. Propagation: By seed.
scrub palm seeds
The flower stalk of the scrub palm is held within the cluster of foliage unlike its very similar cousin the bluestem palm (Sabal minor) whose flower stalk extends beyond the leaves.


The compact scrub palm is a perfect low maintenance addition to mixed borders, foundation plantings, and natural areas. Palms look best when massed in the landscape. Use scrub palms as underplantings and in front of clusters of larger palms and with grasses, yuccas and similar "spiky" plants. Scrub palm is used extensively in Florida xeriscaped landscapes, and is available from several native plant nurseries.


Scrub palm is in the same genus as the stately cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), but its trunk and the growing bud tip remain below ground, safe from fires that periodically sweep through the Florida Scrub community. After total defoliation by fire, scrub palm begins sprouting new leaves within 2 days.

Steve Christman 12/09/97; updated 07/30/99, 10/11/03, 12/31/06

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Sabal species profiled on Floridata:

Sabal causiarum

( Puerto Rican hat palm, hat palm )

Sabal domingensis

( Dominican palm, Hispaniola palm )

Sabal etonia

( scrub palm, scrub palmetto )

Sabal mexicana

( Texas palm, Texas sabal palm, Mexican palmetto, Rio Grande palmetto, hat palm, Texas palmetto )

Sabal minor

( blue palm, blue palmetto, dwarf palm, dwarf palmetto )

Sabal palmetto

( cabbage palm, palmetto )

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