When you think of Charleston County, you probably do not think about Sugar Maples.
They do live there, but only on Native American Shell Middens. People built these amazing structures during the Late Archaic period. Some Shell Middens are well over 5,000 years old and rank among the largest man-made structures of their time period in the New World. The fact that these rings and mounds are constructed out of shell means that they continue to have a profound impact on Lowcountry ecology. Shell contains calcium carbonate, which is like lime in that it raises the pH of the soil. The Lowcountry soil is notoriously acidic, and sites
like this provide a unique niche for life that cannot be found elsewhere. Here you will find sugar maple, as well as basswood, rough-leaf dogwood, redbud, small-flowered buckthorn, Godfrey’s swamp privet, leafless swallowwort and even trillium – all growing on the outer edge of the salt marsh!
There is a very powerful lesson to be learned here. CHOICES MATTER! The actions of people that died 5,000 years ago continue to have a dramatic impact today. Their choices increased the biodiversity of the outer coastal plain of South Carolina. If they had not chosen to build from shell, species like Godfrey’s swamp privet would not occur in South Carolina.
This unusual evergreen holly was extremely important to Native Americans on the South Carolina coast and across the Southeast. Early European colonists observed Native Americans drinking a strange, dark brew termed the black drink. After consuming large quantities of this tea, they vomited. Colonists assumed the drink made them throw up. In truth, the Native Americans were drinking this beverage to receive the stimulation provided by the caffeine contained in the leaves, much in the same way that we drink coffee. They induced themselves to vomit, most likely to purge themselves of evil spirits prior to important meetings. For today's purposes, this shrub makes a lovely evergreen hedge that is extremely adaptable in the Southeast, where it is often used as a boxwood replacement.