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Did you know there was a tea plantation in South Carolina? It is the only tea plantation in the United States. It is located on Wadmalaw Island about thirty miles south of Charleston on Maybank Highway. It is a scenic drive and you’d think you were never going to get there but you will.
In 1960 the Thomas J. Lipton Company purchased the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina. It had been abandoned since 1915. He rescued the remaining tea plants and moved them to Wadmalaw Island. Lipton along with the federal government decided that the area was not right for tea.
In 1987 Mack Fleming and William Hall bought the plantation from Lipton. They have 127 acres for tea crop, but only 63 acres are currently planted.
In 2003 due to opinion and financial differences the plantation was auctioned off and purchased by R.C. Bigelow for $1.28 million.
Because of the invention of the Big Green Machine the plantation can be run by four men. All tea, green, oolong, and black come from the same plant. The processing is what decides what kind of tea it is. Green tea is dried not processed. Black tea is processed the longest.
A tour of the processing plant is free and takes about twenty minutes. A trolley tour of the grounds which gives you more history of the plantation and the tea growing process is $10/person and well worth it. While on the tour you will see the new greenhouse where they are taking cuttings to start more plants. You will see the plants that have been there since 1960 when the plantation was started and you will see the new crop of plants.
Tea is harvested starting in mid-April and running through mid-October. The seventy-three days of rain in the area are supplemented with irrigation pipes and ditches so the roots do not get over watered. Newer plants require more water than older ones. Tea is taken from new growth so tea plants are about waste high. As they get to be about four inches high the Big Green Machine cuts the new growth.
You will also see a gazebo area, the wedding tree, and the fresh water pond where Wally the resident gator lives. Your tour guide will answer any of the many questions you might have.
You can finish off your trip with a sample of the American Classic tea and a tour of the gift shop where one can find everything tea. Tour groups, classrooms, families, and individuals will all find something of interest at the tea plantation.