The state tree of South Carolina is the cabbage palm, or cabbage palmetto, and it is also the state tree of Florida. The tree’s success in protecting the South Carolina city of Charleston during the Revolutionary War gave it a special place in the state’s history and endeared it to Charleston residents. Logs hewn from the palm were used to construct the Sullivan’s Island fort, and British forces who shot cannonballs at the structure were unable to damage it because the logs had too much give, or suppleness. The palm’s performance at Sullivan’s Island in 1776 also led to South Carolina’s nickname, the Palmetto State, and the nickname is proudly displayed on the South Carolina flag.
The cabbage palmetto, also known as Sabal palmetto or Inodes palmetto, grows well in southern climates without harsh winters. The palm’s need for warm weather precluded its inclusion in a special grouping of the 50 state trees at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., and the swamp chestnut oak was chosen to represent South Carolina in the National Grove of State Trees. The cabbage palmetto does not mind salty ocean air and spray, and it is a good tree to plant near beaches.
Lawmakers agreed to adopt the cabbage palmetto as the state tree of South Carolina in 1939. Wild cabbage palmettos can grow as tall as 80 feet (24.38 meters), but those used in street landscaping usually reach only 30 or 40 feet (9.14 to 12.19 meters). The leaves of the state tree of South Carolina resemble a fan and can grow to 5 feet (1.52 meters) long. People have long used the tree’s buds to make relishes, and parts of the leaf have been used to construct fibers. The palm hearts can be eaten raw in salads, especially in a dish named heart of palm salad, and they also can be steamed.
Native Americans used the berries and seeds from the state tree of South Carolina for medicinal purposes, including treatments for fevers and headaches. They used the palmetto’s wood to make homes, drying mats, drying frames, paddles and arrows, and the palm’s fronds to craft baskets. Wildlife feed off the palmetto's small black fruit, including raccoons, squirrels, woodpeckers, black bears, bats, deer, wild turkeys, robins, mocking birds, crows, cardinals, blue jays and warblers. A palm that is similar to the state tree of South Carolina is the dwarf palmetto.