If Saw Palmettos Could Talk

Oh the stories they would tell….

Leif Johnson
Apr 3, 2017 · 5 min read
Saw palmetto trunk

If you’re reading this on a computer screen, two centimeters is roughly the length of the word “slow”, grown in just one year.

These impossibly sluggish growth rates make it a model of persistence, putting even Thomas the Tank Engine to shame many times over, but for just how long are they capable of living? Biologists have sought this answer in the past, but since the saw palm doesn’t have growth rings like trees and also clones itself, its lifespan has been extremely challenging to calculate. That however, was all before the advent of DNA technology and it’s with this new tool at hand that a recent study has taken a much more intimate look at the saw palmetto.


A palmetto leaf

Ten thousand years!

The mere thought of something living for 1,000 years, let alone 10,000, is so obscure to us humans — a species which at its oldest may live to just a hundredth of that. But there are plants on this earth, often right in our own backyards, that have been alive since before the concept of a year ever came to be.


The serrated ridges along the leaf stem that give the “saw” palmetto it’s name
Saw palmettos in the Smith Preserve at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Gopher tortoise (left), Bee pollinating saw palmetto flowers (middle), Sun shining through a saw palmetto leaf (right)

Perspective

Out of all of its incredible traits and uses one of the most profound pieces of wisdom these plants have to offer is a change in how we view the world, because in a society that’s dominated by high-speed internet, fast lanes and speed dating, it’s nice to know that speed isn’t the only formula for success. That meters and megabytes per second aren’t always better than centimeters per year and that as we rush from task to task in our busy lives we can find comfort in the fact that there is both beauty and power in those that grow slow.

Bee pollinating a saw palmetto flower

Environmental Science Department

Scientists at the Conservancy have an active research agenda aimed at enhancing our understanding of ecosystems and associated wildlife in Southwest Florida.

Leif Johnson

Written by

Biologist working to change perspectives and speak for nature

Environmental Science Department

Scientists at the Conservancy have an active research agenda aimed at enhancing our understanding of ecosystems and associated wildlife in Southwest Florida.