Permit Now Required: Saw Palmetto Berries

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.

Natural History: The Sweet Smell of Saw Palmetto

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Annual saw palmetto flowering and fruiting are significant ecological events that attract hundreds of insect species, and provide food for bird and mammal species.

Mary E. Carrington, et. al., Pollination Biology of Saw Palmetto in Southwestern Florida, Palms, Volume 47(2), 2003

The sweet fragrance of saw palmetto at Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) —and at other conservation areas — perfumes the air for many weeks. Each densely branched inflorescence has hundreds, if not thousands, of flowers. The tiny flowers with 6 pollen-bearing anthers (visible in the photo below) open over the course of about a month from the base to the top.

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Saw palmetto is an “early bird”. Over half of its tiny flowers open between 2AM and 4PM, very few open up between 4AM & 7AM, and about 40% open between 7AM and 1PM, according to research conducted in Collier County by Mary Carrington and her colleagues. Lots of nectar was available on the first and second day, but declined in abundance on the third and fourth days. After the 4th day, the flowers browned and withered.

Its fragrance, nectar rewards, and sticky pollen attract more than 300 species of pollinators, according to Dr. Mark Deyrup, Senior Research Program Director and Research Biologist at Archbold Biological Research Station. Carrington found in her study that 80% of the insect visitors were from the orders hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasp & sawflies), and diptera (flies, mosquitoes). Bees, she opined, were “the primary pollinators”. Bees – native and European – carried large loads of pollen and visited multiple inflorescences, crawling over multiple flowers potentially pollinating older flowers that no longer had nectar to offer.

A southern carpenter bee (Xylocopa micans) is shown below reveling in the midst of saw palmetto flowers …

Love bugs (Plecia nearctica), love saw palmetto, too. Love bugs, which are non-biting flies, emerge in large numbers twice a year, usually in May and September. May is when saw palmettos flower, and love bugs, sometimes in large numbers, often are found, singly or coupled, crawling over saw palmetto flowers foraging for nectar or just lazing about for hours …

Saw palmetto deserves more respect as an important pollinator plant and as a source of food for birds and mammals.

Cypress Bend Community Preserve

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Pelican Island Audubon Society President Richard Baker led a special walk at Cypress Bend Community Preserve on 4/10/2016 for the 2016 FMEL – PIAS volunteer class and prior class “veterans”. Purchased in 2006 by Indian River County for preservation, this 47.25 acre property along the south prong of the Sebastian River includes 2.5 acres of hardwood hammock, 1.5 acres of freshwater wetlands, and 43.25 acres of abandoned citrus grove/ruderal land.

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Vestiges of sand pine scrub grace the high ground, shown below with Bob Bruce, Joyce Thompson, Cindy Hersh & Dave Thompson for scale …

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The happy group posed against backdrop of sand pine (Pinus clausa) at the beginning of the walk.

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The coralbean (Erythrina herbacea) was in spectacular flower, shown above amidst red mulberry (Morus rubra) and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens).

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Bastard false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa) also was putting on quite a show.

Water hickory (Carya aquatica) was just beginning to leaf out in the freshwater wetlands …

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Two swallow-tailed kites soared overhead, and the sound of a red-bellied woodpecker caught the attention of folks on the trail …

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Swamp lily (Crinum americanum) and bullrush (Scirpus sp.) grew along the sandy “beach” …

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The diverse habitats of Cypress Bend Community Preserve delighted a all, including Nancy Soucy & Ken Gonyo  …

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Bluestem at Bok

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The Central Florida Palm and Cycad Society met at Bok Tower Gardens on 12/12/2015, and Karen Schuster (Class of 2009), John Kennedy, Bob Montanaro (Class of 2005) & Janice Broda very much enjoyed the meeting. Click here to see the beautiful photographs that Bob posted on his blog.

Among the many palms on display at the Garden was bluestem palmetto (Sabal minor), the most ubiquitous palm in the United States. According to herbarium records kept by the University of South Florida, this palm is not found in Indian River County. Also commonly called dwarf palmetto, bush palmetto, and blue palm, this cold-hardy palm grows naturally in the southeast and south central United Sates, as well as northeastern Mexico.

Note the distinctive manner in which the petiole (leaf stem) meets up with the leaf.

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The leaves of bluestem palmetto are costapalmate (curved) like the cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), pictured below in a photograph taken by Karen Schuster.

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Bluestem palmetto is low-growing (unlike cabbage palm trees), and its trunk rarely emerges from the ground. You easily can differentiate it from the saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), which has palmate (flattened) leaves,  “saw” teeth along its petiole, and trunks that sometimes emerge from the ground as seen below at Bok Tower Gardens .!!!!serenoa-repens-truck-at-bok