Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The History of Charleston's Palmetto Tree

Since the Revolutionary War the palmetto tree has been synonymous with South Carolina and a symbol of victory against the British. After Col. William Moultrie’s heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s island in 1776, the palmetto tree became an indelible emblem of triumph. In 1775 the original state flag depicted a crescent moon against a dark blue background, but was redesigned a year later to include the palm. The flag was adopted with its amendment in 1861. To this day, South Carolinians harbor a profound gratitude towards the tree that helped them fortify the coast and ward off a British invasion.  

Palmetto logs were used to construct the fort at Sullivan’s Island because they grew in abundance along the coast. Little did the troops – on either side – know how defensible the resilient trunks would be against British ammunition. The hearty stalks absorbed cannonball fire and sustained only minimal damage, leaving the fort intact. The British eventually retreated in 1782 and South Carolina laid claim to the city of Charleston.

Official State Tree

In 1939 the palmetto, also known as a sabal palm or cabbage palm, became the official state tree of South Carolina. Undoubtedly recalling the rich history of the state, the palm represents the fierce independence of the people who settled there.

Palmetto Tree Facts

Palmettos grow tall and lean, reaching heights of 40 to 50 feet. And though the tree can grow straight or curved, the fibrous trunk is surprisingly sturdy. The root system is equally strapping, making it easy to adapt to salty or dry soil conditions. A native to Spain, the palmetto could even thrive in desert landscapes such as Phoenix or Reno.  

Indicative of the coastal lands in and around Charleston, the palmetto also grows in parts of Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. Among the species of plants native to the southern United States, the palmetto is nearly hurricane proof, often the only tree standing after heavy rains and sea swells have snapped live oaks and pines. For that, it has become a favorite among coastal residents, often lining streets and shading homes.

Citizens of Charleston turn to professional tree services to trim the tall branches, which are susceptible to roaches and other sub-tropical insects. Palmetto trees are not only an important landscape feature throughout the city, the leaves are often used for salads and pickling.

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