Trees dominate South Carolina's landscape, with forested timberlands taking up more than 12 million acres, or 2/3 of the state's land area. But less than 100 years ago, the state looked vastly different. Thanks to efforts made in the early 1900s, much of the state has returned to its former forested glory.
Abundant trees played an important role in South Carolina's colonial days with pine trees providing resin, turpentine and timber to build naval and merchant ships. Wood from the oak forests on South Carolina's islands also proved valuable for shipbuilding. Unfortunately, land clearing and agriculture had stripped many of the trees from the land by the early 1900s. During the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted millions of acres of trees in the state. Thanks to these efforts, the trees stabilized the soil and helped establish renewable woodland resources that support the state's thriving wood industry. In 1939, the cabbage palmetto tree (Sabal palmetto) became the state tree of South Carolina. The tree graces both the state flag and automobile license plates as well as the state quarter.
South Carolina relies heavily on its trees as its largest cash crop valued at over $876 million annually. Wood products make up the state's third largest manufacturing industry, employing more than 32,000 people.
South Carolina's forested areas consist of about half pine and half hardwood with 25 percent of the timberland planted in pine plantations. Conifers include bald cypress, eastern hemlock and loblolly pine, among others. The hardwood forests consist of trees such as beech, black cherry and several types of oak, including pin, southern red and white. The forests also contain boxelder, pecan, shagbark hickory and honeylocust, along with many other varieties.
One of the main priorities for forest management in the state includes enhancing available habitat for wildlife and protecting endangered species. Forestry practices include thinning trees, handling prescribed burns and using various timber harvesting methods to create forest openings for better wildlife habitats. These openings also help smaller trees and plants to flourish as well.
One of the oldest living organisms east of the Rocky Mountains, known as the Angel Oak tree, grows near the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Estimates put the age of the live oak tree at 1,500 years. Landowner Abraham Waight received the land surrounding the tree as a small grant in 1717. The tree stayed in the Waight family for four generations. Now the city of Charleston owns Angel Oak. The tree has grown to a height of more than 65 feet with a wide-spreading canopy reaching 160 feet. The trunk has a circumference of 25 feet with the limbs of the tree resembling small trunks. Some of the limbs are so heavy that a few rest on the ground, with some of the branches even growing underground for a few feet.