Like Native American tribes everywhere, the people who lived in Tampa Bay before European contact (the Tocobaga) had to meet all their needs from locally-available natural materials.
One of the most versatile plants that could be used by the Tocobaga was the palmetto, several species of which are very common in the area. These miniature palm trees provided food, shelter, and tools for the Natives.
One of the tools that the people needed was cordage, whether it was rope for tying the framework of structures and shelters, cord for making fishing nets, string for bows, or thread for sewing or for fishing lines. And the Florida palmettos presented several different methods of making usable cordage.
There are several species of palmetto in Tampa Bay, including the Saw Palmetto and the Sabal Palm (also known as the Cabbage Palm). They have easily-recognizable fanlike fronds, and they often form thick dense undergrowth in tracts of pine or oak forest. Different parts of the frond can be used for cordage of varying strength.
The only tool you will need is a pocketknife. (The Tocobaga of course made their knives out of flaked stone.)
The first method of producing palmetto cordage is quick and easy, but produces rough string with the least strength. It is still suitable for things like tying wooden poles together for quick shelters or lean-tos. This method uses the thick woody stem part of the palmetto frond. For reasons that will be obvious, it works best with Sabal Palm rather than Saw Palmetto.
The next useful part of the palmetto frond is the fanlike leaves. In both the Sabal Palm and the Saw Palmetto, these contain fibers that can be twisted into string. This cordage tends to be stronger than that made from the frond stems.
The final portion of the palmetto frond that can be used for cordage are the long loose fibers that poke out of the leaves and hang down. These look like strands of hair or fishing line. They can be twisted into a strong cordage.
The Tocobaga also made a strong cordage from the fibers found inside the pounded stems of Milkweed and Nettle plants (the woody interior part must then be removed). Natives also made an extremely strong cord, for bowstrings, by cutting a long thin strip of wet stretched rawhide and twisting it tightly while it dried.
One thought on “Tocobaga Florida Bushcraft: Making Cordage From Palmettos”
“Cabbage Palm” gets its name because the inner growth buds at the base of the leaves is edible. Some varieties are sold commercially as “palm hearts”.