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One story says it's a "swoosh" mark that adorned the caps of some Confederate soldiers, while others claim it is a gorget, the metal throat piece worn by ancient soldiers.) All this is well and good for historians, of course, but if you've got botanical training you know the real truth: A Palmetto palm isn't even a tree; it's more like a big ol' grass, so how can we possibly embrace it as South Carolina's "state tree?" Trees, by general definition, are woody plants at least 15 feet tall with a crown not at ground level and--most relevant--with a thin living layer of cambium tissue between bark and heartwood.However, this cedar doesn't occur in several coastal counties where the Palmetto thrives, ruling it out of competition for our new state tree.Oaks and pines won't do, either--some of them are quite habitat-specific--as is the case with numerous other well-known tree species.While all the other trees still held future leaves and flowers tightly within winter buds, Red Maples , its wood has multiple uses, it is long-lived, it grows fast and strong, its limbs and leaves support all sorts of birds and other wildlife, and its dark green foliage casts welcome shade when weather turns hot.
So now we have at least TWO reasons to reject the Palmetto as South Carolina's state tree: 1) It grows naturally ONLY along the Atlantic Coast in a very narrow region; and, 2) it's not really a tree.
As we approached the coast we began to see those unmistakable signs of Carolina Lowcountry: Bald Cypress trees , Live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss, and--of course--Palmetto palms.