Saw palmetto berries are the fruit of the plant Serenoa repens, which commonly grows on the forest floors of South Georgia and Florida. (You may even recognize it in our logo!)
It is a small palm, growing only 7–10 feet tall. It grows in clumps or dense thickets in sandy coastal areas, and as undergrowth in pine woods or hardwood hammocks. Its ripe, edible fruit can be gathered by hand-picking or cutting the fruit-bearing panicle. The fruits are bluish to black when ripe and comparable to black olives in size and shape.
The berry is currently used in supplements to improve prostate health, balance hormone levels, and prevent hair loss in men. In fact, it is in such high demand that the state of Georgia passed a regulation on their harvest in 2020. Violations are punishable by fines and/or jail time.
Saw palmetto featured prominently in some Native American cultures; its fruit was often used for nutritional, diuretic, sedative, aphrodisiac, and cough-reducing purposes.
Ecologically, saw palmetto is labeled a “keystone species” in southeastern, and particularly Florida, ecosystems (Carrington and Mullahey 2006). More than 100 animal species use saw palmetto for nesting, foraging, or protection (Maehr and Layne 1996).
Saw palmetto habitats are considered “rare and declining” due to conversion to agriculture, development, and the absence or prevention of fire.
We’re often contacted by visitors who have witnessed damage to the island’s ecosystem, or blatant disregard of policy protections. We encourage you to report these to the National Park Service and also complete this form.
Thank you for your respectful stewardship of Cumberland Island.