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The Palmetto tree can signify different things to different groups of people. For the people of South Carolina, it is deeply tied to their history. For people who merely enjoy various kinds of palms, it is a beautiful perennial tree that can be found across the Southeastern United States and the West Indies.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has several names for the Palmetto tree, including Sabal Palmetto, Cabbage Palmetto, Blue palm, and Inodes Palmetto. It is part of the palm family. It is usually grown to provide shade and to make long streets aesthetically pleasing. The tree can grow to approximately 80 feet (24 m) in height and is known for its leaves that are shaped like fans. It grows best in finely textured soils and is a slow grower — only reaching 15 feet (4.6 m) tall when it is 20 years old.
The Palmetto tree has white flowers which bloom in the summer. It has gray-green foliage that can be quite wide in diameter. The black fruit has a single seed and is quite abundant. In fact, the fruit is commonly consumed by animals and research has shown that it is responsible for feeding nearly 25% of the robins and raccoons in the area where it is found.
This tree symbolizes the defeat of the British on Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776, during the Revolutionary War. The American troops defended Sullivan’s Island from a fort made from Palmetto logs. The Palmetto logs were spongy enough to deflect the British cannon balls. As a result of that particular battle, the British were not allowed to take over Charleston harbor and the day is still celebrated as Carolina Day.
Native Americans used the plant for a variety of purposes. They often ate the palm hearts. In fact, it was reported to taste like cabbage. Palmetto tree seeds and berries are sweet tasting, but have a bitter aftertaste. They were often used to cure a headache or reduce a low fever.
The Palmetto tree has a trunk that is water-resistant, so it is often used in the construction of wharfs and piers. In addition, baskets and various mats are often made from the Palmetto leaves. The buds can be consumed by humans and are often used in salads and in making relishes, olives, and pickles.