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Palmetto Tree — State Tree, South Carolina

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Palmetto Tree

The Palmetto Tree and South Carolina’s State Flag

The beautiful indigo sky in the photo below provides a perfect background for South Carolina’s beloved Palmetto Moon. The scene captured is reminiscent of our South Carolina state flag, whose origin dates to Colonel William Moultrie’s stunning Revolutionary War victory over the British at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island.

Sabal Palmetto

Benton Henry of Latta, 2003 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Moultrie was assigned the task of designing a signal flag for the South Carolina militia in 1776, prior to the battle at Fort Sullivan (now Fort Moultrie). The Council of Safety is said to have provided Moultrie with cloth for the flag in the deep blue color of the militia’s uniforms, and he placed on the cloth a crescent that was used as an emblem on the uniforms’ caps. There remains speculation as to why the caps included the prominent crescent, but a commonly-accepted theory is that the crescents were representative of gorgets, or metal military neck protectors worn during medieval times and adopted as a military symbol during the rule of King George II.

SC Palmetto Tree

Paul Gowder of Lexington, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

After the June 28, 1776 triumph at Fort Moultrie, which was largely accredited to the ability of the palmetto tree fort to absorb and thus negate the force of British cannonballs, the palmetto became a venerated symbol of liberty in South Carolina. The palmetto tree was included on the South Carolina state seal in 1777 and added to the state flag in 1860 when the state was charged with designing its own “national flag” after seceding from the Union. The flag design has remained in tact since then and is a symbol of pride for many South Carolinians. June 28th is remembered as Carolina Day and celebrated in Charleston each year, with images of the palmetto tree depicted throughout the city.

Snow-covered Palmetto Tree

Michael K. Jones of Lexington, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The trees that many people think of as ornamentals used to beautify South Carolina cities are actually revered as instrumental in the Carolina Day victory. Even the state nickname is the Palmetto State.

More Facts about Palmetto Trees

Edisto Palmetto

Larry Gleason of Aiken © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The trunks of palmetto trees (Sabal palmetto) are not comprised of wood but a fibrous material that allows the tree to bend in the strong winds common to the South Carolina coast. They also tolerate salt spray and sandy soil, and their abundance along the maritime strand made the trees the logical material for the Revolutionary War soldiers to use in building their citadel.

Cabbage Palmetto Tree

Benton Henry of Latta, 2010 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The hardy palmetto tree can even withstand unusual conditions, such as ice and snow. The above image was captured during a rare snowfall in the Dillon County town of Latta in 2010.

Chuck Morris of Charleston © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Over the years the palmetto tree has become an iconic image in South Carolina culture. Interpretations of the tree appear on clothing, jewelry, in art, and even on bumper stickers. For example, in the beautiful painting above, artist Chuck Morris captures the view of distant docks on Shem Creek through the fronds of a palmetto. Also, in the picture below, photographer Larry Gleason memorializes an Edisto Beach palmetto that no longer stands.

Hunting Island Palmetto Trees

Richard Kook of Beaufort, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Palmetto Tree

Andy Hunter of North Augusta, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Palmetto Tree at Ft Moultrie

Rikki Moye of Mt Pleasant © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

See more renowned South Carolina Trees.

Reflections on the South Carolina Palmetto Tree

Contributor Andy Hunter shares his story about capturing his photo above, “While vacationing at Surfside Beach, I’d get up everyday and go somewhere to catch the sunrise. This morning I went to downtown Myrtle Beach and, having several friends who love anything related to Palmetto Trees, wanted to also get some decent photos of the trees.”

Add your own reflections here.

Please Share Your Thoughts!

Did you enjoy this page? Do you have any information we should add? Send us your comments below — we can't wait to hear from you!

8 Comments about Palmetto Tree

SCIWAY says:
May 25th, 2016 at 8:16 am
Irene Ford says:
May 25th, 2016 at 2:06 am

How is the palmetto tree unlike a palm tree?

Chad says:
May 1st, 2016 at 12:30 am

The palmetto is a great palm in landscape and in the wild!

katt says:
April 25th, 2016 at 11:17 pm

Palmetto bugs are cockroaches. Palmetto trees happen to be one of their favorite habitats.

Hedy Jackson says:
May 30th, 2014 at 11:05 pm

South Carolina Native

Robby says:
March 24th, 2018 at 11:22 am

About 70 years.

Barry says:
May 20th, 2014 at 10:33 am

If I plant a large palm tree, how soon will I see it starting to grow?

Katelyn says:
March 27th, 2014 at 3:13 pm

This is very informative ~ Thank you!


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