Palmetto, the common name of the four species of palm indigenous to the United States, belonging to two genera of the tribe coryphi-neoe. (See Palm.) The largest species is the tall palmetto or cabbage palmetto, sabal palmetto; the meaning of the generic name does not seem to be understood. This grows from 20 to 50 ft. high and 12 to 15 in. in diameter; it is found along the coast from North Carolina to Florida, not far from salt water; its leaves are from 5 to 8 ft. long, fan-shaped, recurved at the summit, and usually shorter than the smooth concave petiole; the divisions are deeply cleft with thread-like filaments among the divisions; the flowers are perfect, followed by a small black drupe, less than half an inch in diameter. This tree is the emblem of the state of South Carolina. Its principal use is in the construction of wharves, for which in southern waters it is superior to all other wood, as it resists the attacks of the ship worm (teredo navalis), which so soon riddles and renders useless piles of other material; the logs do not splinter, and have been employed in the construction of forts, such as that on Sullivan's island.
As with many other palms, the bud of this is eaten, and is by some highly esteemed, while others do not regard it as desirable where other vegetables can be obtained; however great a delicacy it may be, it should only be indulged in when the tree is felled for its timber, as the removal of the " cabbage " causes the death of the tree; palm wine or toddy has been prepared from its juice. Blocks from the interior and softer parts of the stem are used in the southern states as a substitute for scrubbing brushes, the softer portions wearing away and leaving the hard fibres to act as a brush. The leaves serve for thatching out-buildings, and are woven into baskets and mats and plaited into hats, and the younger leaves afford material for light and delicate bonnets. The saw palmetto (S. serrulata), so called on account of the sharp spiny teeth along the edges of the petiole, has a creeping stem 4 to 8 ft. long, from which arise leaves 2 to 4 ft. high; these are circular, bright green, the erect divisions slightly cleft, without thread-like filaments; the fruit is about three fourths of an inch long, with a sweet pulp; it is said that the Indians use it as food, but in whites it causes purging and griping.
The leaves, shred with a hatchel, boiled, and dried in the sun, make an excellent material for beds. It is said that the creeping stem, when grubbed up, dried, and burned, yields a greater amount of potash than any other vegetable substance. This species is common in sandy barrens from South Carolina southward. The dwarf palmetto (S. Ander-sonii) has its short stem wholly under ground; its leaves, 2 to 3 ft. high, are of a glaucous green, longer than the smooth petiole, with the numerous divisions slightly cleft at apex, with sparing filaments between them; the drupe is a third of an inch' in diameter. It is found from North Carolina to Florida, sometimes, especially on some of the sea islands, quite covering sandy tracts. The chief use made of this is for fans, for which the leaves answer excellently; it is frequently called palmeet and palmeta. These three species were placed by older botanists in the genus chamcerops, but the structure of their flowers refers them to sdbal. We have, however, one chamwrops, known as the blue palmetto (G hystrix); this has a short creeping stem, with somewhat glaucous leaves 3 to 4 ft. high; at the bases of the leaves are numerous erect strong spines, like porcupines' quills, which serve to distinguish it from the other palmettos; the fruit is from one half to three fourths of an inch long.
This does not appear to be put to any special use. It is found in the same states as the preceding, but prefers a richer soil, and is often found in moist shady woods and on the margins of swamps.
Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto).