17 palm trees in Beaufort’s Waterfront Park ‘pretty well gone.’ Here’s what happened
Seventeen towering palm trees in Beaufort’s most well-known park will likely need to be removed and replaced — but the city is awaiting a report from an expert to confirm the prognosis before proceeding.
The trees, which are Washingtonia palms, are located in Waterfront Park, home to the city’s most prominent festivals and a tourist Mecca.
“Unfortunately they’ve become diseased and those are prone to pass the disease from one tree to another and now all 17 of our trees are pretty well gone,” City Manager Scott Marshall said of the Washingtonia palms. “We’re having that confirmed in writing by an arborist and we’re waiting on a written report. Once we get that written report we anticipate that we will need to go ahead and take those trees out for safety reasons.”
Michael Murphy, a local arborist, will be inspecting the trees for the city on Friday.
The health issues of the trees is definitely weather-related, Murphy said.
“These trees, they are marginal at best because of the lack of cold hardiness,” Murphy told the Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet. “This is what happens to them when we get these periodic freezes that we always get.”
The particularly harsh cold snap in December killed hundreds of Washingtonian palms across the region, Murphy said.
The fronds or leaves of the palms are faded or falling off the trees at Waterfront Park. Several Washingtonian palms are located near the park’s pavilion. Others are located near the day dock.
Washingtonia robusta, known by the common name as the Mexican fan palm, is not native to South Carolina.
A city tree committee has recommended that the Washingtonians, if removed, be replaced with Sabal palmetto trees, the state tree of South Carolina and a native, said Marshall, who updated the City Council on the situation Tuesday.
The Sabal palmetto— the popular name is “cabbage palmetto” — has appeared on the state seal since the Revolutionary War and on the state flag since 1861.
“We want to go ahead and get those replaced as soon as we can,” Marshall said of the Washingtonia palms. “We’ve got a lot of events coming up this summer. We’d like the park to look nice.”
With views of the Beaufort River and Woods Memorial Bridge, Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in downtown Beaufort serves as both a local marina and gathering spot for visitors and locals alike. It’s the location of several festivals and events throughout the year.
Once the city receives the arborist’s report, it will let the public know which trees are affected and where, and what the timeline is for removal and replacement, said Kathleen Williams, a city spokesperson.
Washingtonia palms were advertised as a new landscaping choice several years ago, Murphy said. The problem is they can grow very large quickly and are more susceptible to extreme cold, he said.
“Our Sabals can take every bit of freezing that happens here and they come out looking like a champ,” Murphy said.
Some community architectural review boards and gated communities have since recommend against planting Washingtonias, which have a “more tender growing point that hasn’t adapted to cold weather,” Murphy said.
“They are kind of on everybody’s — everybody who is doing their homework — hit list,” he said.