If you live in Charleston, ever visited, or even Google our fair town, more than likely you’ve heard of or seen a palmetto rose. For the still uninitiated, the handmade creations are twisted, woven fronds made from the palmettos that dot the city’s landscape. And while sweetgrass basket sewers (downtown at the City Market and Broad Street post office, and on Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant) sell them among their wares, making and plying the concoctions tend to be the realm of local boys looking to garner pocket money.
But ask anyone where the craft got its start and you’ll get a mess of answers, some claiming Confederate soldiers’ sweethearts made them for their menfolk to wear boutonniere-style into war; others declaring that in the early 20th century local prisoners made them to pass the hours; and even more saying that they are easy origami that anyone crafty growing up around palms eventually sorts out. The latter might be the most probable, as variations on the flower pop up throughout Caribbean islands, and Southern Europeans in tropical climes have long made them for Palm Sunday.
Regardless of origin, palmetto roses hold a store of possibilities for area weddings. Florist Clara Gonzales of Tiger Lily often works them into arrangements and bouquets at the behest of brides, and says, “palmettos roses are a great addition for outdoor ceremonies in the summer since they won’t wilt in the heat.” Sara of Sara York Grimshaw Designs agrees, and loves their versatility. “Massed in a vase with no other flowers or fillers makes for a beautiful, long-lasting centerpiece,” she says. “And while they work with any fresh flower combination,” she continues, “I think they’re most appropriate with Southern blooms like camellias, garden roses, and hydrangeas.”
Horst Wholesale Florist’s go-to palmetto rose queen is Lisa Ferguson, and while she has made them into favors, boutonnieres, and posies for mothers and bridesmaids, her favorite configuration is a wreath. “Those are perfect for church doors,” she says, “and you can use them long after.”
A forever flower? Sounds like the perfect wedding memento.