The garden begins where the history of modern South Carolina begins, the place that Europeans first met upon landing here. A stroll through the entrance of the Garden takes the visitor to the edge of South Carolina, beneath palmettos and large, tranquil live oaks festooned with Spanish Moss. Perhaps no other habitat is so intimately tied to our history. This is demonstrated by the live oak. Early in our state’s history, this impressive tree was coveted by Northern shipyards for the durable wood that formed the basis of the naval fleet. Old Ironsides owed its resilience to the live oaks from which it was built. The fact that we had so much live oak timber was one of the decisive advantages of our young country.
No other region is under as great a threat as our Maritime Strand. Development has taken its toll, and these forests have been extensively timbered since colonial times. The islands which harbor these forests were almost entirely converted to long-staple cotton production during the 18th and 19th centuries. What we see today, what we think of as natural, is the product of centuries of human interaction.
This is a habitat where ties go deep. From the state tree, the palmetto, to the beloved sweetgrass that gained fame in the exquisite baskets of Gullah culture, to sea oats that bind our shores against erosion, this endangered habitat has the power to both educate and inspire.
Visitors will enter The Natural Heritage Garden through recreated tabby wall ruins. These walls will not only create a grand entrance; they will teach the visitor about historic tabby construction. Tabby is a form of concrete that was used by early settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is made by burning oyster shells to create lime which is then mixed into a slurry with water, sand and broken oyster shells. Though this construction sounds primitive, it was invaluable to early settlers because of its durability and low cost. Many tabby ruins can still be seen on Spring Island and other sea islands. The lime contained in their walls provides a unique habitat for many unusual plants today. No matter how hard we try, we cannot separate man’s work from nature.
The maritime forest ecosystem contains a section dedicated to South Carolina's state tree: the palmetto. More than just an emblem, the palmetto tree is a highly important plant for the maritime ecosystem, specifically the animals reliant on palmetto drupes for food.