Weavers harvest sweetgrass in SC Lowcountry

ST. STEPHEN, S.C. (WCIV/AP) - Weavers who make the iconic sweetgrass baskets sold along the Southeast coast have a new source of the grass.

A small group of weavers on Wednesday harvested on the banks of the Cooper River Rediversion Canal in Berkeley County on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It's a natural stand of sweetgrass but the Corps has also planted more near the shore on the upper South Carolina coast.

In recent years the grass has become more difficult to obtain because rapid coastal development means fewer places where it grows. There also are fewer places where weavers can access areas to harvest it.

Sweetgrass basket weavers like Lynette Youson are taking advantage of wild sweetgrass growing naturally on government property.

"Oh yes, see with everyone wanting waterfront property, it did away with all of the sweetgrass that grows right at the edge of the marsh water. because the sweetgrass grows on waterfront," said Youson.

It's a partnership the basket weavers formed with the Army Corps of Engineers. Plant specialist Tommy Socha discovered the sweetgrass growing near a project in St. Stephen almost eight years ago. He thought the then struggling weavers could benefit from the acre.

"This is my home and these were my friends, friends who were making these baskets. We had people in our district whose family members make these baskets," said Socha.

After the harvest, more time will pass before the weaving can begin.

"You want to make sure, that it's good and thoroughly dry before you work with it," said Youson.

Sweetgrass baskets are woven by the descendants of slaves in the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor running from North Carolina to Florida.

The Army Corps of Engineers plan to keep the pulling day project going every year.

"It seems to like being picked and it grows better and if it doesn't we'll figure out a way to make it grow better," said Socha.