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Why Is South Carolina Called the Palmetto State?

By Jackie Myers
Updated May 17, 2024
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South Carolina is referred to as the Palmetto State because its official tree is the sabal palmetto. This tree is commonly referred to as the cabbage palm and the palmetto palm. Sabal palmetto grows in the sand filled flatlands in South Carolina and has historical importance dating back to the Revolutionary War. After South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1861, the sabal palmetto became a part of the South Carolina's flag.

The palmetto palm is also native to nearby Southeastern states, including Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. It has an erect stem and leaves that are shaped like a fan. Palmetto palm leaves can be eaten while young by animals such as deer and hogs. This indigenous Palmetto State tree also has wood which can be used for pilings.

Coastal forts were constructed from sabal palm wood during the Revolutionary War because the soft material absorbed all impact from cannonballs. The Palmetto State is well suited for this tree due to the abundance of salt and brackish marshes. Mature palmetto fruits are scattered by birds and animals who disperse it throughout local habitats.

During the Revolutionary war, Colonel William Moultrie designed a flag for his South Carolina troops to use. The blue color of the flag was the same as the uniforms of the troops for whom it was designed. A silver emblem from their caps was used in his design. Colonel Moultrie had survived an attack from the British on Sullivan's Island in a palmetto-log fort.

Today, a sabal palmetto is displayed on the South Carolina state seal, which contains images of both a standing and a fallen palmetto tree. The fallen tree symbolizes the British fleet, and the standing palmetto represents the triumphant defenders who fought on June 28, 1776 at Sullivan's Island. A woman is shown on a shoreline with weapons, representing hope for South Carolina. On January 28, 1861, the General Assembly added the palmetto tree to the original design. The addition of the tree to the flag helped to launch the Palmetto State as the official nickname for South Carolina.

The Pledge to the Flag of South Carolina also mentions the palmetto tree. Mrs. John R. Carson wrote the pledge in 1950, and members of the Wade Hamptom Chapter of the United Daughters of the Conderacy requested that the pledge become official. It was later adopted by Act Number 910 of 1966. Those who recite the pledge confirm their loyalty and faith to the Palmetto State.

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Discussion Comments
By Esther11 — On Nov 16, 2011

The palmetto tree must have a proud place in the hearts of the South Carolina residents. You can find it on the state flag, the state seal, it's the official state tree, and is a part of the pledge to the South Carolina Flag.

Most states don't have a state emblem that is so embedded in the history and pride of their native people.It's nice to see this kind of state pride.

By lovealot — On Nov 15, 2011

I've never been to South Carolina, but have visited Georgia and saw the palmetto trees there. They really are beautiful trees. Question - do these trees grow any other place in the world?

It's interesting that the palmetto wood was used in the Revolutionary War. It's interesting too that animals eat the young leaves.

The citizens of South Carolina seem to feel a real pride and respect for this tree. I imagine it's because it played such a big part in the history of South Carolina.

By gravois — On Nov 15, 2011

I have spent a lot of time in South Carolina and always found the palmetto trees to be beautiful. And they really are everywhere down there. You can't throw a rock without hitting one.

And after reading this article I have a new respect for the way South Carolina honors this tree. It is such a weird but deep part of their history, its cool that they give it such a tribute.

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