by Roger Normand
The Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) palm is a common sight along the Legacy Trail. Features include thickened trunks growing horizontally along the ground, a stalk with sharp saw-like “teeth,” and a rounded fan of long, narrow leaves. It is a classic native Florida plant: drought and fire tolerant, growing in sandy soils. In these pictures taken along the trail in Oscar Scherer State Park, the trunk still shows charred evidence of the prescribed burn conducted late last fall, yet the plants are thriving while any invasive plants are gone.
A little research revealed that these plants are very long lived (The Smithsonian reports some specimens may be 700 years old). The grape-like fruit is an important food source for many animals, including the gopher tortoise, and the plants provide cover for a wide variety of wildlife, including the threatened Florida scrub jay. The Saw Palmetto extract has a long history as an alternative medicine, most recently to prevent of treat prostate issues in men, though its therapeutic benefits have not been validated in scientific studies.