Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Restoring Sweetgrass to the South Carolina Lowcountry

20.08.2004


Coiled baskets made from sweetgrass have been an important source of income for the Gullah community around Charleston, South Carolina for over a century. Descendants of West Africans brought in as slaves, Gullah artisans now find a comfortable livelihood threatened by dwindling supplies of the native grass they have long used to make baskets.



In 2002, the USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) and the College of Charleston, with funding from the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, set up a study designed to involve basket makers in finding solutions for the scarcity of the native coastal plant. The findings are covered in a recent article in the journal Economic Botany.

Marianne Burke (research ecologist with the SRS unit in Charleston), Angela Halfacre (associate professor of political science, College of Charleston), and Zachary Hart (at the time of the study a student at the College of Charleston, now working for the Trust for Public Land) interviewed 23 Gullah basket makers between June 2002 and January 2003. Tapes of the interviews were transcribed and then analyzed to identify common views and practices to inform a long-term management plan for sweetgrass. “This is an environmental issue that directly affects local Gullah people and could impact one of the oldest traditional art forms practiced in the lowcountry,” says Burke. “The situation offers a great opportunity to learn more about involving the public in making decisions about managing natural resources.”


Lowcountry sweetgrass baskets have been made by the Gullah people for almost three centuries. Documented as early as 1730, the distinct form of basketry was first practiced almost exclusively by men. Women took over the craft in the1920s, when many of the men left the area to serve in the military or look for jobs. Though new forms have evolved in the work of individual artists, the basic designs have remained the same throughout time. The coiled seagrass baskets, now highly prized as works of art, represent a major source of income for the community.

Sweetgrass (Muhlenbergia filipes), a long-bladed grass restricted to the coast of the southeastern United States, grows in clumps along the second dune line of the beach, in the boundaries between marshes and woods, and in wet savannahs. This “muhly” grass is not to be confused with the true sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) used by Native American basket makers. Although three other plants - palm, longleaf pine, and black rush - are also used in South Carolina lowcountry baskets, the primary material is Muhlenbergia filipes. Needed in the greatest quantity, sweetgrass has become the most difficult material to obtain, with basket makers now paying gatherers who travel as far as Florida.

“Fire suppression may have played a part in the decline of sweetgrass habitat, but residential development is the major cause,” says Burke. “The coastal savannah habitat has disappeared from much of this land, and areas where sweetgrass still grows cannot be accessed because of private property restrictions. There is a real possibility that this culturally and economically significant art form may disappear if basket makers cannot find a reliable and affordable source.”

The researchers interviewed basket makers at home or at the roadside stands where they sell their wares, asking open-ended questions designed to identify common views about sweetgrass use and management. All the survey responders were women; the eldest respondent was 78 and the youngest 41, with a mean age of 44.

“We identified seven views and practices common to all of the basket makers,” says Halfacre. “Most had purchased sweetgrass from collectors, and they all identified residential development as the reason the grass has become unavailable.” The high price basket makers pay the gatherers not only raises the prices of baskets; it also affects the legacy of the craft. Basket makers can no longer afford to give their children sweetgrass to play with when they first express interest in making baskets.

“The key findings from the survey are that the basket makers support several different management alternatives,” says Halfacre, “and that they are willing to contribute to management efforts.” One proposed alternative is to set aside land dedicated specifically to growing sweetgrass. The ownership of the land was not as important to the basket makers as access: solutions ranged from a “farm” to home cultivation. Respondents expressed a need for education about cultivating and maintaining sweetgrass populations to help those who would like to grow it in their own yards.

“An idea that could improve supplies that has not been addressed is working with the residents of nearby islands - where the grass grows abundantly but is off-limits - to enable access,” says Burke. “The willingness of the basket makers to open these lines of communication and to learn to manage the sweetgrass themselves opens up more possibilities for managing this resource in the future."

For more information: Marianne Burke at (843-769-7010) or mburke@fs.fed.us

Marianne Burke | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.fs.fed.us

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Alkaline soil, sensible sensor
03.08.2017 | American Society of Agronomy

nachricht New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>