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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”