Hobcaw Barony, landmark cultural and history center, blossoms in new book
A Pawleys Island woman’s volunteer efforts at Hobcaw Barony have blossomed into a 132-page book that chronicles the flowering plants found at the 16,000-acre cultural and history center.
That book, titled “Flowering Plants of Hobcaw Barony,” is the result of collaboration between volunteer Maureen Mulligan, a 53-year-old vegetation ecologist, and Dr. William Conner, a 70-year-old Clemson University forestry professor stationed at the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science at Hobcaw Barony.
“One day a (few) years ago,” Conner recalled, “I was contacted by Maureen and she was looking for an opportunity to volunteer her time in order to get a chance to work on Hobcaw. While talking with her, I found out she was quite experienced in plant identification. I told her I had always wanted to do a book on the flowers on Hobcaw as something we could use for people looking to learn more about our plant life or find out what they were seeing as they toured the property.”
Mulligan remembers it even more simply.
“I just wanted to get out on their property and see what I could find,” she said with a laugh, recalling the first time she saw a stately longleaf pine in front of Hobcaw’s Discovery Center.
“That longleaf pine really got my attention, and then Dr. Conner brought up the chance to work on a book,” Mulligan said. “So over the last few years, with his pictures and my pictures, we put it all together for the book.”
Mulligan earned her bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of South Florida and her master’s degree in conservation ecology from the University of Georgia.
Conner said Mulligan’s enthusiasm was evident from the beginning.
“She got excited and started going out and taking pictures and identifying each,” he said. “I gave her pictures I had taken through the years and tried to guide her … (and) she started putting the book together. I had a chance to read through drafts and suggest small corrections or format issues.”
The book was a five-year project.
“I started working in 2016, and it was done on a volunteer basis,” Mulligan said. “I wasn’t paid or anything. I would go out, look for plants. Sometimes it was luck of the draw. What I found, I would take pictures of. Most of the pictures in the book are mine.”
Hobcaw Barony, just north of the city of Georgetown, is one of the premier cultural and historical centers on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast®. The private, nonprofit Belle W. Baruch Foundation’s primary mission is to conserve Hobcaw Barony’s unique natural and cultural resources for research and education. Hobcaw Barony’s 16,000 acres encompass a rich diversity of every common ecosystem found on the South Carolina coast, making it an unparalleled site for research in the environmental sciences. More than 70 cultural sites on the former plantation, including cemeteries, slave cabins, and the Baruch’s homes, which were once visited by the likes of Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, provide a time capsule for educators and visitors.
For those living in or traveling to South Carolina’s Hammock Coast®, Hobcaw Barony offers much to offer – history, nature, culture. For those looking for things to do in South Carolina, Hobcaw Barony checks many boxes for travelers. The Hammock Coast is located between Charleston to the south and Myrtle Beach to the north.
Hobcaw is bordered by the Waccamaw River on the west, Pawleys Island to the north, Winyah Bay on the south and the North Inlet estuary on the east. Nearly 50 percent of the property is tidal wetlands, and the upland areas are dominated by pine forests and woodlands. Isolated freshwater wetlands and brackish and saltwater marshes are also part of the property.
The book, geared to the amateur botanist, features more than 200 flowering plants, organized by habitat and color for ease of navigation by the reader. To that end, the plant’s common names are used first, followed by their scientific names. Even with the dozens of plants featured in the book, it only scratches the surface. “Grasses and sedges alone,” Mulligan noted, “likely have hundreds of species on the property.”
Because, Conner said, “the average person coming to Hobcaw has very little training, if any, on names of the different flowers they will see, we tried to make this book something they could quickly find a picture of the plant they were looking at and then learn more about it if they wanted to.”
And, Mulligan added, “A lot of these plants would be seen by people touring the property, but sometimes no one would know what they were.”
Many of the plants found in the book can be seen in other areas of the Hammock Coast® and beyond. Still, Mulligan said, some plants featured in the book had never been documented on Hobcaw before.
Private visits are rare at Hobcaw, as it is predominantly a research facility, but public two-hour tours are available Monday-Saturday at two times per day: 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tours cost $25 per person. The tours require little walking and include highlights of Hobcaw Barony’s 16,000 acres of history, ecology and research.
The property represents every environment and century of the Lowcountry. The tours include a look inside financier Bernard Baruch’s c.1930 home that played host to politicians, generals and newspapermen. In addition to Hobcaw House, tours include a drive by the home and stables of Bellefield Plantation, the home of Baruch’s oldest daughter, Belle Baruch, who owned all the property by 1956. The tour also includes a stop in Friendfield Village, the last 19th-century slave village on the Waccamaw Neck.
“Hobcaw is a jewel that many still don’t know about,” Conner said. “It amazes me how many people in Georgetown still have never come out and seen the Discovery Center, much less taken the tour to learn the history of the property, and experience the opportunity of seeing the varied plant and wildlife that we have.
“The Discovery Center does a tremendous job providing opportunities for schoolchildren to visit and take a variety of classes and tours.”
And from a purely scientific standpoint, Hobcaw is invaluable, Conner stressed.
“Having a protected site like this is wonderful as one can conduct research on sites that are preserved and free from public intrusion,” he said. “One can set up a study and not have to worry about anyone bothering the equipment.”
Both Clemson and the University of South Carolina have master’s and doctoral students working on projects at Hobcaw. Jennifer Plunket, the stewardship coordinator for the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, conducts Spring Master Naturalist classes on site.
For Clemson, Conner oversees the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science. In December 2020, he was honored with a special Society of Wetland Scientists 40th Anniversary Award for his high level and sustained contributions to wetland research, practice, education, communication and support to the Society.
“I have been at the institute for almost 31 years now,” he said. “I study forested wetland ecology, especially the impacts of disturbance (man-made or natural) on these forests. Right now we are looking at the impact of saltwater intrusion in coastal forests caused by sea-level rise or river dredging.”
Conner also plans to use the “Flowering Plants of Hobcaw Barony” book in a class he teaches in forested wetland ecology.
“Our desire,” he said, “is that everyone sees that there are many beautiful plants on Hobcaw in the many different sites we have – from river to high and dry longleaf pine systems – and one has to come at different times of the year to experience the total beauty of the property.”
It’s also important to document the flowers, as environments are changing rapidly due to climate change, Mulligan and Conner said.
“We are seeing changes all along our coast and movement of salt-marsh communities into freshwater marshes and swamp forests,” Conner said. “Even on Hobcaw, we have areas where freshwater forests have died as a result of saltwater intrusion and are now marshes. … It is important to document what we have so in the future we compare what one finds on site to what was once there.”
Even now, Mulligan said, some plant species are going extinct.
“Losing plants is a terrible thing,” she said. “We don’t know, for example, what characteristics of a certain plant may come in handy for, say, medication. Climate change is having a terrible effect on some plants — not just here, of course, but all over the world. Plants can’t get up and move because they don’t like what’s happening around them.”
When she’s not volunteering at Hobcaw Barony or the native plant garden near the county landfill, Mulligan is employed by Georgetown County as an environmentalist and training coordinator.
The book is available for $17 at Hobcaw Barony’s Discovery Center and from Amazon.
Hobcaw Barony is located at 22 Hobcaw Road just north of Georgetown along U.S. Highway 17. To find out more or to schedule a tour, call 843-546-4623.
By Mark A. Stevens, director of tourism development for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce and South Carolina’s Hammock Coast®
For more information about the Hammock Coast, visit www.HammockCoastSC.com.
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