The natural and cultural history of an iconic plant
“To be in palmetto hammocks, coastal marshes, swamp forests, wet prairies, or revegetating cane breaks with Jono Miller is to walk into a world of wonder. His exuberance, intelligence, humor, and wisdom are as wild and awesome as the cabbage palm itself. If palmettos could talk, they would sound a lot like Jono.”—Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Mesquite: An Arboreal Love Affair
“Miller invites his readers on an engaging ramble from Charleston to Waccasassa Bay in a collection of beautifully illustrated and fully documented stories. Along the way, Miller shows us how these evocative native palms are woven into three centuries of southeastern tradition and history.”—Susan Cerulean, author of I Have Been Assigned the Single Bird: A Daughter’s Memoir
“Written with passion and purpose, The Palmetto Book represents a lifetime of research and a model of scholarship. This book is about Florida, Floridians, and our relationship with a fascinating plant. Jono Miller is the Sunshine State’s palm whisperer.”—Gary R. Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida
“The cabbage palm, the dowdy mophead of Florida flora, has suffered our collective neglect. Miller rights that wrong, recognizing these plants as wise and ancient elders of our landscape, salient in ecology, art, history, and culture.”—John Longino, University of Utah
“Naturalists love a good field trip and Jono Miller is no exception. Ride along on Miller’s many quests for answers to all things Sabal palmetto which take him through the sea islands of Georgia and the coastal Carolinas, through urban forests in at least six states, and all over the Florida peninsula into dense hammocks and wet prairies down to Key West.”—David A. Fox, University of Florida
The palmetto, also known as the cabbage palm or Sabal palmetto, is an iconic part of the southeastern American landscape and the state tree of Florida and South Carolina. In The Palmetto Book: Histories and Mysteries of The Cabbage Palm, Jono Miller offers surprising facts and dispels common myths about an important native plant that remains largely misunderstood.
Miller answers basic questions such as: Are palms trees? Where did they grow historically? When should palmettos be pruned? What is swamp cabbage and how do you prepare it? Did Winslow Homer’s watercolors of palmettos inadvertently document rising sea level? How can these plants be both flammable and fireproof? Based on historical research, Miller argues that cabbage palms can live for more than two centuries. The palmettos that were used to build Fort Moultrie at the start of the Revolutionary War thwarted a British attack on Charleston—and ended up on South Carolina’s flag.
Delving into biology, Miller describes the anatomy of palm fronds and their crisscrossed leaf bases, called bootjacks. He traces the underground “saxophone” structure of the young plant’s root system. He explores the importance of palmettos for many wildlife species, including Florida scrub-jays and honey bees. Miller also documents how palmettos can pose problems for native habitats, citrus groves, and home landscapes.
From Low Country sweetgrass baskets to Seminole chickees and an Elvis Presley movie set, the story of the cabbage palm touches on numerous dimensions of the natural and cultural history of the Southeast. Exploring both the past and present of this distinctive species, The Palmetto Book is a fascinating and enlightening journey.
Jono Miller is a natural historian, educator, and activist who has worked to understand and protect wild places in Southwest Florida for 50 years. He is former director of the Environmental Studies Program at New College of Florida.