Wildflower Restoration: Moving Sabal Palms

September 9, 2018

General, News, Wildflower Preserve

On the Wildflower Preserve property, we are lucky to have a large number of native Sabal (aka Cabbage) Palm trees.  The Sabal Palm is the state tree of Florida.  It is slow growing, but very hardy.  When a Sabal Palm starts from seed in the wild, research by the University of Florida indicates that it can take 15 years to initially develop a trunk.  After that, the trunk grows about 6 inches per year.  Add that up,and a tree with just a 15 foot trunk is likely to be 45 years old!  Sabal Palms provide great habitat for many other species.  Plants grow in the “boots” along the trunk, animals nest among the fronds, and birds eat the seeds. Unlike most trees that are best transplanted when they are small, the unusual nature of the Sabal Palm root system makes it very difficult to transplant younger trees. However, mature trees can be successfully transplanted when proper techniques are used.   

To save as many Sabal Palms as possible at Wildflower, the design plans call for moving up to 120 mature Sabal Palms out of the new wetland footprint to other locations on the preserve property.  Brad Young, senior ecologist with ESA Scheda, was onsite recently at the preserve to work with the Diversified Professional Services construction team on starting the transplant efforts.   

When you watch the transplant work in progress, to the untrained eye it seems unlikely that it could be successful.  However, the approach is widely used in landscape management and ESA Scheda has had high success rates with this methodology at other restoration projects.  

Here’s an overview of the transplant steps: 

  • A transplant location is chosen and a trackhoe is used to dig a hole that is about twice the width of the tree’s root ball and approximately the same depth.
  • At the tree’s original location, the excavator is used to dig a trench around the tree’s roots.  Then, a heavy fabric strap is attached and the tree is lifted out of the ground.
  • The work team uses sharp tools to cut off the tree’s roots until only a core root ball remains.
  • All of the palm fronds are removed with the exception of the tree’s growing stem.  (Experience has shown that if greenery is left on the tree, it places too much demand for nutrients on the remaining root ball.)
  • The trackhoe lifts the tree and moves it to the new location.
  • Dirt is filled in and compacted around the root ball.  Care is taken to place the tree at approximately the same ground level as it was prior to the move.
  • Within 24 hours, a water truck comes to the site and saturates the area around the tree to remove air pockets and help the plant become established.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sabal Palms, here’s a good introductory article:

Have questions about the Wildflower Preserve restoration project?  Send us an email at Wildflower@LemonBayConservancy.org or give us a call at the LBC office, 941-830-8922.

Lemon Bay Conservancy

About Lemon Bay Conservancy

Founded in 1971, Lemon Bay Conservancy is a not-for-profit land trust based in Englewood, Florida. Our long-range vision is: "To forever protect and preserve the natural features of Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor, their surrounding waters and uplands, and vital fish and wildlife habitat, through property preservation, environmental education and advocacy for sustainable land and water conservation policies and practices." To support that long-range vision, we focus our mission in three areas: Saving Land; Environmental education; and Advocacy for sustainable environmental policies.

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