Serenoa repens fruit — also known as saw palmetto berries.
These olive-shaped morsels are sought after by consumers as herbal remedies, and prized by pickers because of their worth.
Palmetto berry popularity even drives some harvesters to pursue illegal means.
“We have received a lot of complaints from citizens over the years of trespassing, usually during this time of year between August and November, when the berries are ripe and ready for picking,” said Aidan Marshall, east operations lieutenant for the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office.
Native to Florida, saw palmettos are slow-growing, clumping, multi-trunked palms that grow 5 to 10 feet tall, and 4 to 10 feet wide as far north as South Carolina and as far west as Texas, according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or UF/IFAS.
Their leaves are fan-shaped with small, saw-like teeth on their stems, and, in the spring, 3-foot-long stalks appear to showcase white, fragrant flowers before the berries develop.
A saw palmetto yields between 100 and 500 berries in mid-to-late June before its yield declines until the middle of October.
Palmetto berries start out as green, oblong pods before they ripen by changing shape and color between August and November, indicating they’re ready to be picked and sold.
Operating for 8 years out of central Florida, the Saw Palmetto Market LLC, which specializes in harvesting and buying palmetto berries, travels Florida to follow the berry-picking season.
“They’ll start in South Florida, and as they become yellow, orange or black they become merchantable,” Saw Palmetto Market CEO Troy Rentz said, “and as the season progresses, they move farther north.”
For more on the Saw Palmetto Market, visit sawpalmettoberrie.com.
While an important food for wildlife, palmetto berries are said to provide natural health benefits for humans.
Palmetto berries are either ground up into pill form or their oils are extracted to be diffused to help treat enlarged prostates, urinary tract infections and hair loss, Rentz said, adding male and European clientele make up the much of the demand.
Rentz said the Saw Palmetto Market deals in around 500,000 pounds of berries a year.
“What really impacts the business is really the weather; too much rain during pollination will decrease the yields,” said Rentz, who’s been a part of the palmetto berry industry for about 10 years. “With any farming, you’re really depending on Mother Nature.”
A commodity, palmetto berries have a market price that fluctuates on a daily basis, “but a good, back-of-the-napkin number is anywhere from a $1.50 to a $1.75 a pound,” Rentz said.
“For some people, it’s a way for them to make some extra money,” he said, “so a lot of harvesters that may go harvest tomatoes or watermelons, this is the time of year when they’re not harvesting oranges or other crops so they can be used to harvest palmetto berries.”
Palmetto berry season, is also when law enforcement starts seeing an uptick in calls.
“Individuals are usually seen trespassing on vacant land, picking these berries,” Marshall said.
Calls for palmetto-berry-related offenses have decreased since July 2018, Marshall said, when Florida declared saw palmetto berries a commercially-exploited plant.
This required berry harvesters to obtain permits, and berry transactions to include bills of lading – a detailed receipt documenting the seller and buyer, along with the product’s description, origin and destination.
Along with making an arrest for trespassing, law enforcement can now jail someone for harvesting palmetto berries without a permit.
“Prior to that, anybody could harvest – they were trespassing on private land; however, they didn’t need a permit,” Marshall said. “Anybody and everybody could leave their house, pick berries and sell them on the side of the road. I remember trucks parking in Homosassa that were just purchasing them off the street.”
Applying for a permit with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to harvest palmetto berries is free, and can be done online at tinyurl.com/yu7k9bt6.
For questions about saw palmetto berry harvesting, and how to submit a paper application for a permit, contact the FDACS at either 1-888-397-1517 or DPISPB@FDACS.gov.
Harvesters have to carry their palmetto berry permits with them while they’re picking on properties they’re permitted to be on. A permit isn’t needed to harvest berries from one’s own property, unless they plan to sell their picked berries.
It’s prohibited to harvest from federal, state or any other public lands unless the governing authority gives the OK.
“There are not any public entities that are issuing people the ability to harvest,” Marshall said. “For the most part, you’re going to find people on private property harvesting these berries.”
Through informational seminars in partnership with UF/IFAS, the Saw Palmetto Market tries to educate harvesters about the dos and don’ts of palmetto berries.
“We’re about promoting ethical harvesting for a sustainable future,” Rentz said, “so that means it’s imperative that people obtain a permit from the state, which is free.”
Since 2019, the sheriff’s office has made 11 arrests for unpermitted harvests.
“The arrests are not physical arrests but usually notices to appear (in court),” Marshall said, “A lot of times we’ll trespass them from the property if we we’re able to contact the property owner, and we usually do not make physical arrests on trespassers unless they’ve been warned as a trespasser previously.”
Sheriff’s office deputies took two Citrus County residents into custody Aug. 23 on a misdemeanor charge of willfully destroying or harvesting regulated plants without either a permit or permission from landowner.
Homeowner associations in Citrus County, especially for the greenbelt-laden subdivisions of Pine Ridge and Sugarmill Woods, can encourage their residents to contact authorities if they suspect illegal berry picking.
Private property owners can also fence in and post their lands with no trespassing signs to make it easier for law enforcement to make a trespassing arrest.
“Anything fenced or posted gives us a little bit more ability to make a physical arrest for trespassing because you can clearly see it’s fenced and posted,” Marshall said. “There are physical obstructions they have to climb over to go on the land.”
In the country outside Clarksville, Tennessee, is the Morrison family farm.
It’s a place Hernando teen Jackson Smith knows and loves, his mom’s family farm.
About four years ago, he came across a few trees on the property there and noticed the slender trunks of some sapling trees and how they were twisted in places, like a corkscrew.
As he later learned, grapevines grow around the young trees, wrapping themselves around the pliable, tender trunks in such a way as to create these intricate twists and turns.
“I’ve always loved nature and finding really cool stuff in nature,” Jackson said.
So, one day he took his pocket knife and cut down a few of these unusual-looking trees, with the idea of fashioning them into walking sticks, the ones he now sells from his JD Crafts booth every first and third Saturday at the Inverness Market at the Depot.
“My dad was given a walking stick with these twists, and I always thought it was pretty cool,” he said.
The first walking stick he made he gave to his grandmother.
“I started making more and giving them away,” he said.
Then this past Christmas, Jackson, now 16, was in a Christmas play at his church, Victory Baptist Church in Inverness, playing a shepherd, using one of his hand-whittled, shiny polyurethane walking sticks as a shepherd’s staff.
“He sang a solo in the play, and afterwards someone offered to buy his stick from him,” Jackson’s mom, Glee Smith, said.
He also sold another one at church.
That’s when he got the idea to start a business.
Earlier this year, Jackson went back up to Tennessee to his family’s farm and came home with 43 trees he had harvested.
“I was surprised at how many trees are like that, with the twists in them,” he said. “I’ve never seen that in trees in Florida.”
He said he’s friends with a guy who recently opened a toy store in Inverness, FSD Toys, and asked him about how to start a business.
“He said the best thing for me is to do the Market at the Depot and see how they sell,” Jackson said.
At first, a lot of people stopped at his booth and asked questions, but didn’t buy any, he said.
And then ...
“My first sale was pretty cool,” he said, smiling. “When it happened, I was talking to the lady and she actually bought one! I thought, ‘She’s actually going to do this!’
“She gave me the $50 I was asking, a $50 bill, and I took a picture of it in my cash box and sent it to my mom with the message: ‘I made a sale!’”
His second sale was the same day.
He said he had seen some unfinished walking sticks that were selling for $65 plus $30 shipping on eBay, so he figured if that person could make $95, he could certainly make $50.
Jackson Smith is both fun loving and serious.
His room is a workshop where he makes his walking sticks and a music room where he plays guitar and keyboard, practices banjo and listens to gospel music.
It’s also a place where he studies, an open Bible on his desk at all times.
Currently, he’s in 11th grade and is homeschooled.
“I was in eighth grade in Tennessee when the pandemic started and school closed,” he said.
That’s when he started homeschooling. When he, his mom and older sister, moved to Citrus County a year and a half ago, he continued homeschooling.
This past May 1, God called him to be a preacher, a story he loves to tell.
“It was very, very exciting,” he said. “I was at church on a Sunday morning, and after the service I told my pastor I had surrendered to preach.”
The pastor told him that preachers always have to be ready and that, “if you’re called to preach, that means you have a message that God instilled in you. So, you’re going to preach it tonight. I’ll give you 10 minutes.”
“I told him, ‘I don’t think I’m quite that ready,’ but I went home and studied and made my notes,” he said. “I preached seven minutes and 30 seconds. But I actually went through my notes in about 20 seconds. I was surprised I hit all of my points so quickly ... luckily God helped me think of some more things to say.”
Since then, Jackson has preached mini sermons at a youth camp in Georgia and at his dad’s church in Tennessee.
“I’m actually writing a book,” he said. “I did my first sermon in Florida, my second in Georgia and my third in Tennessee. So, my book is called ‘50 Sermons in 50 States.’ I have three chapters and the introduction, but it’s going to take a while before it’s done, obviously.”
His love for gospel music, especially JD Sumner, who was a back-up singer for Elvis Presley, and the Blackwood Brothers, goes back to when he was a boy and learned that his grandmother wrote a song called “Child, Child,” that was recorded by the Kingsmen.
“I looked it up and listened to it, and YouTube kept bringing up other videos ... and that led me to JD Sumner and it was all uphill from there,” he said.
Jackson also sings bass in a quartet at church with his mom, sister and the pastor’s son.
He said what he wants to do, what he plans and hopes to do – soon – is start traveling and preaching. All he needs is a driver’s license.
Meanwhile, he studies his Bible, makes notes and practices sermons.
The day the Chronicle came for a visit, on a Wednesday, in the middle of the interview Jackson got a text from the church youth pastor: “Y’all are preaching tonight. 10 minutes on the power of prayer.”
He replied: “Yes, sir.” with two smiley face emojis.
He said when he’s working on a walking stick, whittling the bark with his knife, he uses the time to talk to God.
“It’s like when I’m hunting,” he said. “While you’re in a deer stand there’s not much to do except be still and quiet and talk to God.”
He said also when he’s cutting away at the bark, he sees new things every time.
“Sometimes as you cut the bark off, when you go deeper the color gets lighter,” he said. “Sometimes the bark is hard to get off and you have to dig at it. It could take 30 minutes or three hours; it just depends.
“And then you sand it and when you put that shine on it, it looks really good,” he said. “In my opinion.”
Find JD Crafts on Facebook at: https://tinyurl.com/mr2mccsk
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday said he expects more flights to transport undocumented immigrants to out-of-state “sanctuary” communities, as questions continued to swirl about a pair of flights this week that sent about 50 people from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
With support from other Republicans, DeSantis framed the controversial flights as a protest against the Biden administration’s handling of the Mexico border and as protecting Floridians from people transporting drugs into the United States. Florida lawmakers put money in the state budget this year for DeSantis to transport undocumented immigrants.
“There’s also going to be buses, and there will likely be more flights,” DeSantis said Friday afternoon during an appearance at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. “But I’ll tell you this, the Legislature gave me $12 million. We’re going to spend every penny of that to make sure that we’re protecting the people of the state of Florida.”
The flights Wednesday mostly involved Venezuelan migrants and included about 10 children. Two planes went from San Antonio, Texas, to the Florida Panhandle community of Crestview before going north.
DeSantis’ decision to launch the flights spawned international headlines and drew harsh criticism from Democrats and immigrant advocates. President Joe Biden accused Republicans of “playing politics with human beings.”
“What they’re doing is simply wrong,” the president said at a Congressional Hispanic Caucus event Thursday evening. “It’s un-American. It’s reckless.”
Massachusetts Senate President Karen Spilka described the flights as “tantamount to a form of human trafficking for pure political games,” according to the State House News Service.
DeSantis’ office has not released full details of the flights, and questions continue about issues such as using Florida money to relocate migrants who had been in Texas.
DeSantis rejected as “false” reports that the migrants – who were moved Friday from Martha’s Vineyard to a military base on Cape Cod – were lured onto the flights in Texas with promises of housing and jobs.
“The folks that are contracted, not only did they give them a release form to sign, they actually gave them a packet. And in that packet included a map of Martha’s Vineyard,” DeSantis said. “So, it was obvious that that’s where they were going.”
According to FlightAware tracking, two Ultimate Air shuttles flew Wednesday morning from San Antonio to Crestview. One of the planes then stopped in Charlotte, N.C., and the other stopped in Spartanburg, S.C. They then went to Martha’s Vineyard.
State records show that the Florida Department of Transportation on Sept. 8 made a $615,000 payment to Oregon-based Vertol Systems Company Inc., which has an operation in Destin, for “relocation of unauthorized aliens.”
The governor’s office did not respond to questions asking if or how the company was involved in Wednesday’s flights.
The money for Vertol came from the $12 million that the Legislature steered to the state transportation agency, at DeSantis’ request, for “the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.”
Massachusetts officials and residents scrambled to provide accommodations for the migrants after they landed Wednesday.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said she’s exploring how DeSantis sent the asylum seekers from Texas without notifying state and local government officials in Massachusetts.
“We are looking into that case, and we’ll be speaking with members of the Department of Justice,” Rollins told reporters Thursday, noting that Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have bused migrants to other places in the United States.
“We have several other sister communities, whether it’s D.C., New York, California, where we’ve seen things like this, and we’re hoping to get some input from the Department of Justice about what our next steps might be, if any at all,” she said.
Massachusetts immigration attorney Rachel Self told reporters Thursday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security helped process paperwork for the migrants before they got on the flights to Massachusetts.
Self contended that agents falsified addresses on the migrants’ paperwork and listed homeless shelters throughout the country as their residences, including one migrant who was sent to Martha’s Vineyard with an address listed as a homeless shelter in Tacoma, Wash. The migrants were also given incorrect information about which federal agency to report to after they arrived in Massachusetts, which could lead to their removal from the country, according to Self.
“It is clear that this was an intentional attempt to ensure that these migrants were removed in absentia when they failed to change their address with a proper agency. This was a purposeful derailment designed to prevent people from complying with federal immigration policies,” Self told reporters Thursday. “It is sickeningly cruel.”
DeSantis called the process employed in the flights “voluntary.”
“I think that if the states could send, I would send back to Mexico or back to the home country. But here we are doing it voluntarily,” DeSantis said. “They signed a release. And then they get a packet.”
“They’re given a good ride. They’re given everything. And that’s just, you know, it’s a humane thing to do,” DeSantis continued. “What’s not humane is what Biden is doing. He’s giving a false promise that the borders open, luring people to come here for political purposes.”
Democrats have called moving refugees to other states immoral, while lambasting this week’s relocation of Venezuelans who have escaped the socialist Maduro regime.
Florida Democrat gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist on Friday filed a public-records request to “force DeSantis to answer” for his actions.
“These people were fleeing, you know, socialist regimes, and then they’re treated like they’re still in a socialist regime by Gov. DeSantis,” Crist said during a campaign rally outside the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. “It’s shocking. It’s unbelievable. And he rails against that. Yet, he practices that himself. He’s an autocrat. He wants to be a dictator. He’s cruel. He’s mean. And he needs to go.”
Crist’s request included “any and all documents” related to the state’s migrant-transfer program, internal communications in DeSantis’ office about the program and communications related to the program between DeSantis’ office and the office of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.