ST. STEPHEN, S.C. (AP) — For most of his 80 years, Joe Mazyck has been harvesting the soft, pliable sweetgrass used to make the iconic baskets that have been woven by slaves and their descendants for centuries along the nation's Southeast coast.
But the grass, which gets its name from the fresh fragrance of its leaves, has been harder to come by in recent years because of breakneck development in the coastal areas where it grows, from North Carolina to Texas.
"The habitat is just giving out. Every piece of ground there is they are building something on," the Mount Pleasant resident said Wednesday.
"A lot of people like waterfront property and that's done away with a lot of the sweetgrass. At one point basket weaving was considered a dying art," agreed Lynette Youson, a fifth-generation weaver also from Mount Pleasant.
But local, state and federal government agencies are helping to ensure weavers have grass for their baskets, woven by the descendants of slaves in the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor running from North Carolina to Florida.
Mazyck and Youson were among a small group of harvesters invited Wednesday to harvest, or pull, sweetgrass on a tract owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about an hour north of Charleston.
The grass is naturally growing but the Corps' Charleston District has also planted more than 13,000 plants in tracts along the coast from the North Carolina line to Daufuskie Island on South Carolina's southern tip.
The Town of Mount Pleasant and the state of South Carolina, at its Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site in Charleston, have also planted sweetgrass that can be harvested.
Continue reading this story on the...