Evidence of rampant and illegal saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) berry harvesting is shown above at south Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) in 2014. Beginning on July 17, 2018 anyone harvesting saw palmetto berries is required to have a Native Plant Harvesting Permit issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
The FDACS website says that “after receiving comments from private and public landowners, conservation groups and other interested parties — the Florida Endangered Plant Advisory Council recently unanimously recommended that the state DACS put the saw palmetto on the department’s list of commercially exploited plants and to require the permit for harvest”. This permit is free, and interested parties are required to apply for it at least 14 days prior to harvest.
Berries are black when fully ripe and are beloved by wildlife from big bears to tiny birds that peck at the high-calorie, high-fat fruits. Aboriginal people consumed them, but a taste for them needs to acquired. Jonathan Dickinson, who was shipwrecked on the east coast of Florida, likened their taste to rotten cheese steeped in tobacco juice.
Now, berries for human use are collected when semi-ripe and are dried, powered, and made into preparations for benign prostate enlargement. You can buy these products at health food stores, drugstores, and supermarkets.
You can sell saw palmetto berries — if you have a permit — in Fellsmere. The price today is $2.75 per pound, and the Palmetto Facebook page forewarns folks that they must have the proper permit to sell their berries.
Hopefully, this new requirement will help to diminish harvesting from people’s private property and from everyone’s property, our natural areas like the ORCA where the bolitas (“little balls” in Spanish) are a very important food source for wildlife. The nectar-rich flowers are visited by more than 300 species of pollinators.
Saw palmetto is a plant that deserves this new protection and inclusion in our landscapes.