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  • Wendy De la Garza

Cabbage palm vs. Saw palmetto

We can use digital photography to help us ID plants and animals on the nature trail. I took my oldest daughter out this morning with our cell phones in hand! Since the Education Center is closed today, we dropped a dot on the map so we wouldn’t get turned around. It‘s a trail we’d never been on before! We also have a paper map. (I ignored the “let’s get lost” request.)

In photography I look at things intentionally from different angles. A camera is very good at helping you to frame what you are seeing and focus on it. Our goal today was to photograph the Cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto) and the Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) at different angles and perspectives to help us catch the identifying features!

First, we got up really close to fill the frame. When you are getting a close-up, make sure to gently press on your screen at the place you want the camera to focus. We could clearly see little spines on the stem so that tells us it’s Saw palmetto.

With a landscape photo, we can get a larger picture to show scale. This is the Cabbage palm. It grows up to 80 feet tall. The Saw palmetto grows to maybe 8 feet tall and is spread out.

If we point our cameras down into the tree, we can see this one is a Cabbage palm. It has broken palm frond grooves that lizards and bats love to hide in.

Let’s change our perspective! If we take a photograph of the palm frond from the side, we can see it looks like a curvy S. That’s a Cabbage palm frond.

The close-up on the left of the Cabbage palm frond shows a pointed leaf stem, or upside down V. The Saw palmetto leaf stem on the right ends more flatly at the edge of the leaf blade.

Finally, on a really sunny day, move your body around to see if you can avoid shadows. It will be easier to see all the cool identifying features!


And yes, this method will help you to better identify at home later the other interesting species you may find.


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