Field Guide to South Carolina

March 30, 2018

Field Guide to South Carolina

I've only been to South Carolina a handful of times, the longest of which was for the birth of my niece in Beaufort. I was in high school at the time so it's been a while, but what I remember most was the air and the stars and the Spanish moss hanging languid and pleasantly heavy. We get a little bit of that in Virginia and everyone always complains, but I secretly love it - the southern summer casting its spell, slowing everything down to a drawl. 

The flora and fauna for South Carolina is, as you might guess, picturesque - it hits that sweet spot between the tropics and deciduous forest, where you get a little bit of the best of everything. I was surprised to learn that there's a sliver of the Blue Ridge skirting the western edge of the state that is home to eight state parks (editor's note: this is only a surprise because I'm terrible at geography, and should include a disclaimer at the beginning of every post that I'm just doing my best), and that the bulk of the state is in the Piedmont region. I should probably go further into the sandhills region and the longleaf pine initiative, but to be frank, I'm working on this and simultaneously pulling together New York's field guide, so I'll just leave it as a strong suggestion to look into the long leaf pine. On to South Carolina - 

Sabal Palmetto - One of the things I've tried to do with these guide is avoid using common state symbols (e.g. there's no dogwood in Virginia's guide, to the chagrin of many). That being said, I just didn't see a way to work around including the palmetto for South Carolina, and furthermore, I'd rather get between Virginians and dogwoods than South Carolinians and their palmettos. The palmetto has been used in the state seal of South Carolina since 1777, after the palmetto log fortress at Fort Moultrie withstood British attack. The soft, fibrous palmetto wood did not crack under the cannonballs, but rather absorbed the shock and reflected them. 

Eastern Coral Snake - I've mentioned here before that I am *not a snake person*, but coral snakes are one of the few exceptions - these are just stunning creatures. And much like my missteps with the fluffy southern flannel caterpillar, it is extremely venomous. After the black mamba, it has the most powerful venom in the world, but a less effective poison delivery system. Their head and tails are an almost similar width, which allows them to bury their heads and raise their tails when being attacked. Their pattern is similar to the harmless scarlet kingsnake, a Batesian mimic (where a harmless species imitates the warning signs of a harmful species). The school kid rhyme that I can never remember is "Red next to yellow, you're a dead fellow / Red next to black, you're okay jack". 

Horseshoe Crab - I have a soft spot for horseshoe crabs after spending quite a bit of time at the Virginia Living Museum touch tank as a kid, touching their bristly mouths and feeling like they were watching me with their cold, fierce eyes. As I learned there, horseshoe crabs are not true crabs and lack antennae and jaws, and instead are more closely related to spiders. They're considered living fossils, having originated 450 million years ago. And a note on those eyes - while I was noticing their top shell lateral eyes as a kid, horseshoe crabs actually have ten eyes distributed around their shells detecting both visible and ultraviolet light.

Spanish Moss - I thought for sure that Spanish moss was an invasive species like kudzu, but as it turns out this IS actually a native! Like Florida's tillandsia and many of its orchids, the moss is epiphytic, meaning it draws its nutrients from the air and rain water (side note: this makes it sound like the plant would probably talk a lot about crystals). In a weird little tidbit, it was used as car seat cushioning in the early 1900s!

So there you have it South Carolina - you have a very lovely home state, but I'm guessing you already knew that. The states have been going so quickly and simultaneously (and the pace is about to get even more gnarly), so it's hard to remember exactly where I am at a given time, but I know I've got Pennyslvania and New York's illustrations complete and am just pulling the designs together, and I believe I'm starting Ohio's illustration's tomorrow (or today, as I post this). Thanks again for following my wanders!

SOURCES:
https://www.sciway.net/sc-photos/charleston-county/sc-palmetto-tree.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Moultrie
https://www.livescience.com/43938-coral-snakes-colors-bites-farts-facts.html
http://dnr.sc.gov/marine/mrri/acechar/speciesgallery/Invertebrates/HorseshoeCrab/index.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horseshoe_crab



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