For first-time visitors or newcomers, it doesn’t take long to realize the Lowcountry has a distinct character of flora that is similar to other historic coastal cities of the Southeast, such as Savannah and New Orleans.
From imposing, Spanish-moss draped live oaks to expansive marshes of spartina grass, the native plants of the area are impressive. The palmetto tree is legendary, an icon featured on the state flag and appears on license plates, bumpers, hats, shirts, towels or more.
And while pine trees often get lumped into a derogatory category, the longleaf pine — the key plant species of the diverse, once vast longleaf pine ecosystem in the South — has gained widespread appreciation in the past 30 years.
Native, wild species are complemented by imports for the home and garden, including azaleas, camellias, Confederate jasmine, hydrangea and other cultivars such as the famed Noisette rose and the poinsettia, named for Charleston native Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant to the United States in 1825.
As local agriculture has become newly popular in the 21st century, area farmers are finding renewed interest in edible plants, from perennials such as blueberries, blackberries, peaches and pecans to annuals, including tomatoes, okra, corn and collards.
Opportunities to tap the benefits of Charleston’s year-round plant abundance abound, from farmers markets and garden shows to plant sales and botanical outings.
Markets and CSAs
Within the past two decades, the popularity of farmers markets have spread to almost every town in the Charleston metro area and have become true gathering places. For those who aren’t into the markets but want local produce, many area farmers offer shares of “community-supported agriculture” or CSAs.
Clubs, volunteer groups
The area has several botanical groups that hold regular meetings, workshops and events, including the Charleston Horticultural Society, the Lowcountry chapter of the S.C. Native Plant Society, Charleston Parks Conservancy and lots of garden clubs, including one of the oldest in the United States, the Garden Club of Charleston.
Several urban farming organizations offer opportunities for locals to volunteer and learn. Those include the MUSC Urban Farm at the Medical University of South Carolina, Fresh Future Farm in the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood of North Charleston and the Green Heart Project, which focuses on school gardens. GHP is working on a larger urban farm at the William Enston Homes, a historic, affordable housing area on Upper King Street.
Other groups provide community gardens. The Charleston Parks Conservancy has a community gardening program offering educational workshops and dozens of raised beds for locals to lease and tend for their own produce at Magnolia, Medway and Elliotborough parks. The Romney Urban Garden offers a little oasis at the end of Romney Street off Upper King Street.
Two of the biggest and longest-running annual garden tours in the area are the Historic Charleston Foundation’s Festival of Houses and Gardens in early spring and the Garden Club of Charleston’s House and Garden Tour in April.
Year-round, however, many local plantations have gardens, formal and natural, to explore, including Middleton Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, Drayton Hall and Boone Hall.
Native and heirloom plants can be hard to find, but the Lowcountry chapter of the S.C. Native Plant Society holds plant sales in March and October every year. The horticultural society holds a two-day plant sale, Plantasia, in mid-April.
For those who need the fill the void between plant sales, locally owned nurseries offer plenty. The go-tos in Charleston are Hyam’s Garden & Accent Store on James Island, Abide-A-While Garden Center in Mount Pleasant, Roots and Shoots Native Plants in West Ashley, Hidden Ponds Nursery in Awendaw and Brownswood Nursery on Johns Island.