Plant-life in the Lowcountry

Live Oaks: Unlike regular oaks, live oaks are (mostly) evergreen, meaning, they drop their leaves all year long instead of just in the Fall. They can live more than 200 years. Although the Angel Oak, which is a tourist attraction on James Island, is thought to be more than 400 years old!

Spanish Moss: (above and below) is not really moss, and certainly not Spanish! It is really an epiphyte, kind of like orchids, and lives on the moisture in the air and the minerals in the bark of the tree, usually a live oak tree, and usually in the south. It is not harmful to the trees and has been known to make pretty good nests for local birds. This “moss” was called Spanish because the Native Americans or the English, or maybe the French who laid claim to the area were reminded of the long scraggly beards of the Spanish conquistadors. This is according to two different tour guides. Besides, it sounds better than epiphyte.

And that brown/green fern-like plant on the branches? Well, that’s called Resurrection Fern because it turns brown and crunchy when it has no moisture for several days, then miraculously turns bright green again once it rains. Isn’t nature amazing? (See top and bottom left photos above.)

Oleander: (Below) I call this the South Carolina highway plant because it divides the highways. Mile after mile. It must be pretty hardy because it seems to be everywhere. And Oleander is poison to small children and pets. It comes in all shades of pink and red, sometimes short bushes and sometimes as tall as trees. All the nurseries around here sell them as potted plants.

Palmettos: The South Carolina state tree, and prominent symbol on the state flag. They grow wild here and you can see them on the beach, in the forest, in people’s yards, and randomly on the side of the road. I remember collecting the palms for Easter and Palm Sunday and making little crosses out of them.

Magnolias: (Below) I know. Magnolias (and most of the plants I’m highlighting here) grow in other places besides the south. But they are all so prolific here! Tall and stately, large, thick leaves, the Magnolias almost compete with the live oaks. But Magnolias have those amazing flowers. Not even a 300 year old oak tree can top that!

Azaleas: (below) Either they had already bloomed or were waiting for warmer weather. We didn’t see too many flowers showing off, but thought this one (top, left) was a nice color. The one in the middle I borrowed from Google. I do remember riding my bike through town when I was young and seeing huge rows of azaleas growing into each other, competing for space but somehow managing to do so gracefully. We don’t bother with azaleas in our yard now because the deer will devour them as a single early morning breakfast.

Jasmine: (below, with another southern favorite—a rose.) For the majority of our visit the scent of jasmine lingered in the air…everywhere. The yellow jasmine is the SC state flower, but we mostly saw the white ones. If you’re ever down south and you wonder why the air smells so sweet, it’s probably the jasmine. How delightful!

SC's State Flower Yellow Jessamine

SC State Flower – Yellow Jasmine
Photo by James Baker ©

One more little group.

These were at the nursery in Magnolia Gardens displayed as shade plants. Hydrangeas, Coleus and Hostas. They look good together, but, once again….deer food in our neck of the woods. We keep a few in pots on the deck, but it sure would be nice to have them lined up underneath some Magnolia tree along with a few more azaleas!

In my next post we will go to Magnolia Gardens, which is the oldest public gardens in SC. This was definitely a highlight of our trip for me. The internet connection has been sketchy as usual, so sometimes I have to post these little adventures piece-meal. And we are heading back north tomorrow with a couple more stops. I miss my yoga practice and my yoga students! And I miss my own garden. But these trips invigorate my imagination and give me a lot to wonder about. I hope you are enjoying coming along with us.

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