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So Charleston

Bring on the magnolia blooms! This month, Magnolia grandiflora’s immense flowers open, filling the air with their signature sweet fragrance. Think you know everything there is to know about the quintessential Southern tree? You just might be surprised by what you learn about its forbearers and modern-day relations, as well as its role in Gullah folklore

The stout, cinnamon-colored bird officially dubbed Thryothorus ludovicianus is a year-round Lowcountry resident—a native of forests, thickets, and cypress swamps who’s adapted to suburban living, particularly liking wooded or brushy yards. In fact, this species is known for choosing unusual, perhaps reckless, places to build its nests: atop fence posts, inside mailboxes, even flower pots or work boots will do. Learn more about these loud-singing locals

One of the few forest creatures regularly spied by city- and suburb-dwellers today, the white-tailed deer—the official animal of South Carolina, and 10 other states!—was essential to early life in the United States. Coastal Native American tribes didn’t only dine on venison, they used every part of the animal, making knives from bones, bow strings from sinew, and clothing from hide. While the deer population has decreased dramatically over the centuries, through wise wildlife management and carefully monitored hunting regulations, it remains healthy in the modern Lowcountry

Longleaf pine trees (Pinus palustris) once covered some 90 million acres in the Southeastern United States, including much of South Carolina. Living for up to 250 years and reaching as tall as 110 feet, these conifers created one of the most species-rich ecosystems in the country. But due to factors including over-harvesting, development, and the suppression of the natural fires that for centuries helped to maintain these complex habitats, only about three percent of the original longleaf pine forest remains. Luckily, the Alabama-based Longleaf Alliance is making great strides toward restoration throughout the region, and here in the Lowcountry, progress is underway around the Francis Marion National Forest and beyond

Impossibly thin, subtly sweet, and crunchy with sesame seeds, the benne wafer is a time-honored staple of Charleston cuisine. This delectable edible hearkens back to Africa and to the blending of cultures that resulted from slavery and now defines the city’s unique culinary heritage. Read on for more of the story

If the Holy City could count its blessings this month, the iconic public building at the corner of Church Street and Queen Street (once called Dock Street), would justly be among them. After all, audiences get to attend Charleston Stage plays, Spoleto Festival performances, and other special events within a space that traces its roots back to the first building in the colonies constructed exclusively for theatrical productions. The original Dock Street Theatre was likely ravaged by fire in 1740, then replaced by a larger version demolished in the 1780s. Three decades later, the structure we know today went up to house the Planter’s Hotel, and during the Great Depression was—most wonderfully—transformed back into a theater

Today, two magnificent lighthouses mark the entrance to Charleston Harbor: the 1876 Morris Island Lighthouse—decommissioned in 1962—and its Sullivan’s Island replacement, which is still in operation today. Yet they are far from the first structures to illuminate the Holy City’s waters over the years. Learn about the fascinating forms of beacons, and the early technology behind them, that have helped guide mariners ashore over the centuries

Among the largest of the 14 species of bats indigenous to South Carolina, these creatures of the night regularly set up residence in human houses and outbuildings (but may also sleep away the days inside tree cavities and bark crevices). At sundown, Earth’s only flying mammals emerge to hunt winged insects, capturing mosquitoes and more with their mouths as well as their scoop-like tail membranes. In honor of National Bat Week, October 24 to 31, find a few more fun facts

This graceful member of the heron family (Egretta thula) is distinguished from other tall white wading birds by its bright yellow feet and the flourish of long, flowing plumes that show during breeding season. However, those gorgeous feathers almost led to the animal’s extinction—read on to learn more


A call for entries for our third annual photo contest, themed “Only in Charleston,” netted more than 600 submissions. Check out our top picks, including the winners in the amateur and professional categories who are each awarded $400, as well as the honorable mentions. After viewing them, vote for your favorite every day through August 26, 2016. The Readers’ Choice winner will be announced in the October issue and will receive a $200 prize.  

Click here to vote for your favorite!


On the night of February 17, 1864, the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley slipped out of Breach Inlet and headed for the Federal blockading fleet offshore; her target was the sloop-of-war U.S.S. Housatonic. She plunged a spar torpedo into the side of that 1,260-ton ship, making history as the first sub to sink an enemy vessel in combat. But the Hunley never returned to shore, and her whereabouts remained a mystery for 131 years—until she was finally found off the coast of Sullivan’s Island. On August 8, 2000, as cannons boomed; church bells pealed; and thousands watched from boats, beaches, bridges, and the Battery, the Hunley was raised. Here, learn more about her past—and present

Brought to the Carolina shores 400 years ago by Spanish explorers and traders, these sure-footed animals are esteemed for their hardiness as well as their gentle, easygoing nature. Once the standard farm horse for the Sea Island Gullah people, they were nearly extinct by the 1990s. Today, though still critically endangered (less than 400 are known to be alive), they are making a steady comeback through the efforts of organizations such as the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society, and Equus Survival Trust. Here, get more familiar with this intriguing creature—the official State Heritage Horse of South Carolina

As a whole, South Carolinians (and plenty of vacationers who fall in love with this place) adore our state flag. We wear renderings of it on clothing and accessories, stick it to car bumpers, and incorporate it into company logos. For some, it’s merely about that pretty palmetto tree and its crescent ”moon,” but many love it for its history. They know that in 1775, Colonel (later General) William Moultrie designed a flag for his American patriots consisting of a white crescent on a solid blue background—the color of his men’s uniforms. That banner was waving over tiny Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776, when Moultrie’s troops defeated the British at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, with a good deal of help from the native palmettos. In honor of Carolina Day, here’s more about our fascinating flag

The Holy City still uses the 17th-century term “piazza”—which comes from the Italian word meaning “open space”—instead of the more common “porch” or “veranda.” 

Native to rivers, inlets, and bays, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is one of the Lowcountry’s most admired and recognizable raptors. It also happens to be the only hawk in North America whose diet is almost entirely made up of live fish. It’s a rare case when one of these high-divers snags a bird, snake, or small rodent.

A Holy City ode written for two friends on their wedding day — written by  Anna Claire Hodge ///  artwork by Jill Hooper

Feeling the pull of a childhood spent on the water and the knowledge that this is where you belong 

Towering over 65 feet high, this majestic Southern live oak (Quercus virginiana) is said to be the oldest living thing east of the Mississippi River, having survived for some 400 or 500 years, though some claim it’s existed for as many as 1,500. To put that in perspective, the tree’s magnificent branches were likely providing shade on John’s Island before the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth

Think you know the Holy City inside and out?