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Going native with South Carolina plants

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Arianne King Comer

Batik artist Arianne King Comer offers a free multi-discipline arts gathering on Friday at the North Charleston City Gallery.

Twenty years ago, very few people in the Lowcountry thought to plant sweetgrass, dwarf palmetto or Carolina jessamine in their yards.

Those native plants weren’t readily thought of or available to be used in yards, which were and still are dominated by lawn grass and Asian varieties of azaleas, crepe myrtle and daylilies.

In 1996, the S.C. Native Plant Society was formed in an effort to promote the awareness of native plant species and their importance in the Palmetto State’s landscape, wildlife and history.

Though still relatively small, with about 420 active members in the state, including 140 in the Lowcountry chapter, the dedicated group has worked closely with state agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations and others to change minds and hearts about native plants.

“We’re a lot further ahead than we were 20 years ago,” says Jeff Jackson, a member of the Lowcountry chapter and past state president. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”

Jackson says progress has been aided by more people rethinking the lawn and its dependency on synthetic chemicals and irrigation. He also points to those who want to provide food sources for bees, butterflies and birds, and to spend less time and money on manicuring yards.

Part of the society’s educational efforts over the years is holding an annual symposium in locations near one of its four chapters.

Next weekend, the three-day symposium comes to North Charleston.

The symposium kicks off Friday with registration, cocktails and appetizers at Mixson Bath and Racquet Club in North Charleston.

Saturday’s events move to the Felix Davis Community Center at Park Circle in North Charleston and include talks by experts on hawthorns, coastal dune vegetation, plant propagation, indigo, rainwater harvesting and the urban landscape of Charleston’s upper peninsula.

The weekend wraps up with field trips, all starting at 10 a.m. Sunday at different locations. Trips include a Capers Island boat excursion and tours and hikes of Sullivan’s Island’s accreted dune land, Cypress Gardens, Caw Caw County Park, Magnolia Plantation, Francis Marion National Forest (focusing on butterflies), Bonneau Ferry and Tibwin Plantation.

The fee for the weekend is $120. (While the registration form on the society’s website says the deadline is Friday, the organization will be accepting late registrations.)

Lowcountry chapter member Colette DeGarady says the society hopes not only to draw master naturalists, teachers and agency staff but everyday gardeners and families.

DeGarady says other local chapter events include plant sales, workshops and field trips, all designed to underscore the importance of protecting and planting native species.

“I view everybody’s property and landscape as a little habitat,” says DeGarady, who works for the local Nature Conservancy. “You can improve it, degrade it or keep it the same. I see planting natives as a way of improving it.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.

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