The Quintessential Plants of the Lowcountry
Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry is known for its warm weather and winding waterways, but its flowering plants and green and gold marsh grasses are what lend it its lush charm. While Kiawah River sits amongst much of the native Charleston greenery, many of the plants Charleston is known for are not actually native to the area. Many were introduced to the salty and humid environment that is the Southern coastline by world-traveling botanists. Here are several of our favorites that can be found at Kiawah River:
Japanese Camellia, Camellia japonica
The Japanese Camellia, or common camellia as it is sometimes called, came to Charleston originally from Japan. As the story goes, the French botanist to King Louis XVI, Andrè Michaux, was living in Charleston in 1786 when he gave a camellia he found on his travels to his neighbor, Henry Middleton. Considered an essential feature of Asian temple gardens and religious life, the flower took off in Lowcountry gardens. The most impressive camellia garden in the area starts blooming in February and can be found less than an hour from Kiawah River at Middleton Place. The plant’s white, pink and red winter blooms allow a pop of spring color, even in the colder months.
Gardenia, Gardenia jasminoides
The beautifully fragrant Gardenia flower was first planted in Charleston in the late 1700s by Scottish physician, botanist and zoologist Dr. Alexander Garden. He spent his spare time studying plants and corresponding with Swedish botanist Carolus Linneus, who first developed the system of scientific names for plants. To honor his colleague, Linneus named the bloom according to his system after Dr. Garden. The plant is best defined by its large double white flowers, waxy dark green leaves and alluring fragrance. It can be seen blooming throughout the Lowcountry’s gardens in May and at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which is only a 45-minute drive from Kiawah River.
Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica
The crepe myrtle was another introduction from Andrè Michaux and is named for the paper-like texture of the tree’s flowers. He first attempted to introduce the plant to England, but the tree refused to bloom in the cold and wet climate. Its next stop was Charleston, where it flourished and can now be seen framing the roads of the area with its pink, purple, red and white flowery blooms during the summer. In the fall, it is one of the few trees in the area whose leaves change, adding pops of orange and red to the otherwise green landscape. Crepe myrtles can be found throughout coastal South Carolina, but most abundantly in downtown Charleston, which is only half an hour from Kiawah River.
Kiawah River is positioned perfectly for viewing the flowering plants of the Lowcountry. With vast foliage throughout the community and expansive marsh scenes, many of the iconic flowers can be found right on the property. But it’s also only a stone’s throw away from the famously-cultivated gardens and plantations of the state if you decide to explore the Lowcountry for the day.
Photos by: Japanese Camellia; Gardenia; Crepe Myrtle