A palm with a low, prostrate trunk more or less buried or lying parallel to the ground that forms dense clumps. Sometimes the trunks may be upright, having the dimensions of a small, erect tree, especially in moist, shady hammocks. The fronds are fan-shaped and may be silvery blue or green in color. The frond petioles are armed with sharp curved spines reminiscent of a saw blade. The fragrant flowers are creamy white. The fruit is yellowish or orange, turning black at maturity.
Wildlife – These flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies. The fruits are important foods for a variety of animals, including foxes, raccoons, opossums, and even gopher tortoises.
The fruits have a long folk history as an aphrodisiac and have been used for centuries in treating conditions of the prostate. Native American Indians used the saw palmetto fruits as a subsistence food in the fall. The bases of new leaf stalks were also cooked or eaten raw. The Seminoles used the plant for fiber, baskets, brooms, fans, and ropes. Additional uses included fish drags, fire/dance fans, and dolls. American tribes use the fruit as a diuretic, a sedative, an anti-inflammatory, and for asthma, colds, coughs, chronic bronchitis, diarrhea, and migraines. Modern-day development of a purified extract from the berries greatly improves the symptoms of an enlarged prostate. Florida is the biggest source and producer of saw palmetto products. With about 2,000 tons harvested from South Florida and exported to Europe each year, the fruit crop estimate is $50 million a year in the state.