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Newspapers sharpen the vision of communities they serve

SCPA President Richard Whiting

Editor’s Note: Join SCPA in celebrating National Newspaper Week Oct. 1-7!  In addition to the column below, we also have a quarter page S.C. promo ad. Additional  print and digital ads, columns and editorial cartoons are available on the National Newspaper Week site for download at no charge.

By Richard Whiting
President, S.C. Press Association

Were you at the city council meeting?

We were.

Were you at the school board meeting?

We were.

Were you at the county council meeting?

We were.

Of those that livestream, did you watch the meeting? No? Why?

Well, likely because you’re busy. You have kids to deal with, dinners to fix, games and rehearsals to take the kids to or maybe, just maybe, you’re too tired and just wanted to enjoy a favorite TV program. After all, you know you can check out your community newspaper’s website or read the next edition to find out what happened at those meetings.


That’s largely the case here in Greenwood and much of the Lakelands, but not so across much of the national landscape where newspapers are closing down at an alarming rate — an estimated two per week.

At my newspaper, the Index-Journal, we have served much of Greenwood and surrounding counties for more than 100 years. Community weeklies dot our area’s counties, too. Abbeville County has The Press & Banner, McCormick County now has a combined product, The Journal Messenger & Reporter, that serves it and communities across the state line in Georgia. Saluda County has the Saluda Standard-Sentinel. And bordering on Greenwood County’s lake are two community papers, The Clinton Chronicle and Laurens County Advertiser.

In a sense, our region is an anomaly in that it doesn’t match the national decline of newspapers large and small. Still, two smaller community papers in the Lakelands did shutter their doors in recent years — the Star and Beacon in Ninety Six and the Ware Shoals Observer.

When newspapers have been serving their communities for decades, people might have a tendency to take them for granted. It’s sort of like flipping the light switch in your home. You just expect a light to turn on. But what if a tree downed a power line? You probably instinctively flip the switch and then realize the power is out. You are shrouded in darkness.

The darkened house is only temporary, though, because within a few hours or maybe a few days, the utility company gets everyone back on the grid and back in the light.

However, that’s not the case when a newspaper goes dark. When their owners are forced to make that decision to shut down the press, turn out the lights and vacate the premises, a shroud of darkness is also cast over the community it served.

Rather suddenly no one is covering the public bodies’ meetings. No one is sharing the wins and losses of beloved high school sports teams. No one is letting a wide audience know about concerts, plays and other events they might want to attend, and no one is covering those events. No one is sharing human interest feature stories from within the community. No one is alerting residents that someone wants to open a bar near their home, that someone has died and has an estate in probate or someone has property in foreclosure.

A community newspaper is a one-stop repository filled with a wealth of news and information relevant to the people it serves. Facebook, X, TikTok, Instagram? Sure, they provide information. How relevant in the grand scheme of things? Not so much, unless what is most important to the audience is what someone fixed for dinner, what new item of clothing someone bought, what new hair-do a friend has, what ballgame or concert people are attending.

All of that is fine, of course, but it’s not as important to people’s daily lives as knowing if your property taxes are going up and why. It’s not as important as knowing how your elected officials are spending your money, what ordinances are being enacted or what zoning changes are being considered.

You see, while people go about their daily lives and live them out on social media, journalists are going about the business of covering the community, from investigating potential wrongdoing among the elected and appointed officials to attending and reporting on the meetings they cannot or, let’s be honest here, do not want to attend. They’re giving readers tips on how they can spend their weekends and telling them how the area high school teams did in Friday night’s football games.

This week, Oct. 1-7, is National Newspaper Week. We don’t ask you to sing our praises because of that. Rather, we ask you to take into account all that your newspaper provides and delivers to your fingertips, and then we ask that you support it. Support it with your subscription, support it with your advertising and yes, if we ask, support it with your donations because in reality every week is National Newspaper Week.

Without a steady flow of revenue community newspapers cannot survive and the day might come when it goes dark. When it goes dark, the community’s ability to truly know itself, discover itself and even govern itself is blurred and dimmed in much the same way a person’s eyesight is diminished by cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Newspapers, and their respective digital platforms, shed light on the communities they serve. The communities control whether that light stays on.

Richard Whiting is executive editor of the Index-Journal in Greenwood. He also serves as President and FOI Chair of the South Carolina Press Association, which serves the state’s 15 daily and 67 weekly newspapers.

This content is being shared through the S.C. News Exchange and is for use in SCPA member publications. Please use appropriate bylines and credit lines.

2023 National Newspaper Week Ad

Join SCPA in celebrating National Newspaper Week Oct. 1-7! In addition to the ad below, President Richard Whiting will have a column available later this week. 
Additional  print and digital ads, columns and editorial cartoons are available on the National Newspaper Week site for download at no charge.

Download this National Newspaper Week house ad as a quarter page (5.25×10.5″) ad and resize as needed. The ad is available in color or black-and-white.
If you’d like the InDesign package to localize or resize, just let us know.
The data included is derived from the recent South Carolina study conducted by Coda Ventures. More detailed data will be available to SCPA members soon.

This content is being shared through the S.C. News Exchange and is for use in SCPA member publications. Please use appropriate bylines and credit lines.

Americans depend on newspapers to stay informed about their communities

By Benjy Hamm Director, Institute for Rural Journalism, University of Kentucky

Nearly 220 million American adults turn to their local newspapers regularly for news and information they need to stay informed, feel more connected to their neighbors and improve their lives and communities.

That readership number is based on a recent national study by independent research firm Coda Ventures for the America’s Newspapers organization.

Most likely, the number of readers is higher. Many people who say they receive news on their phone or from social media instead of newspapers fail to understand that the sources for those stories are often journalists at U.S. newspapers.

We sometimes take the work of journalists for granted, but those who work at newspapers are filling an important role in the health of our communities and country.

Everyone, even nonreaders, benefits from the work of journalists. News coverage has led to improvements in food safety, decreases in traffic and plane fatalities, better care for veterans and nursing home patients, support for victims of natural disasters, and exposure of all sorts of wrongdoing.

I have long loved this quotation by Frank Batten Sr., a media visionary and former chairman of Landmark Communications, who said about journalists and newspapers: “Our calling was never more important. We have the capacity to inform, to enlighten, to awaken and to inspire. We have the opportunity to enrich the lives of thousands of people every day.”

Across the United States, journalists and other newspaper employees are serving their communities and democracy every day by informing, enlightening, awakening and inspiring millions of readers.

The news they provide is accessed in many forms. Many people still use the word newspaper as the all-encompassing term for those various forms, but now news is delivered news through websites, social media, electronic editions, email alerts and newsletters, in addition to the traditional printed paper.

Those delivery methods have changed significantly in recent years. But one thing remains constant: Americans depend on the trusted news coverage provided by newspapers.

The study by Coda Ventures, based on surveys of 5,000 people, revealed that respondents ranked local newspapers and their websites as the most accurate sources of original news reporting. The results also listed the top five reasons Americans seek out local news – to stay informed, feel connected in the community, decide where they stand on local issues, find places and things to do, and talk to other people about community news.

Survey respondents consistently said they prefer newspapers in print and digital formats over TV, radio and social media as their main source for news and information important to them.

They like the fact that newspapers use different ways to deliver their news stories to various audiences. The survey showed that people who are 39 and younger listed social media as the No. 1 way they prefer to access news, though they also like news websites and email alerts. People in the 40 to 74 age group ranked news websites as their top choice, followed by email alerts and the printed newspaper. Those 75 and older prefer the print edition but also like news websites and email alerts.

Based on the frequent reports of struggles within the news business, many people might be surprised to learn that newspapers and their digital offerings reach so many readers. Those struggles, primarily financial, are real and affect many media companies, not just newspapers. But the new ways of delivering news allow newspapers to reach even larger audiences.

Frank Batten might not have anticipated the widespread use of the internet and social media when he first made his comments in the 1980s, but his words remain true today.

Newspapers and their dedicated employees continue to inform, enlighten, awaken and inspire – enriching their communities and the lives of millions of people who benefit from their work every day.

Mystery Plant! #743

John Nelson

Posted 9/27/23

By John Nelson

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

Frequently the leaves and stems of a plant will prove to be just as fascinating as its flowers. This is a plant like that, and it is a native, aquatic species.

Except for its leaves, the entire plant grows below the surface of water, most often in quiet lakes and millponds, or sometimes creeks. In the Southeast, it is most commonly seen in ponds on the coastal plain and in the sandhills, but it also grows in the mountain lakes. It’s easy to see in central South Carolina, for instance, at the lake at Sesquicentennial State Park here in Richland County, as well as in the lake at Goodale State Park, near Camden, both of which are fine places to visit.). This species is actually quite common in many places around the world now, and you probably have it growing in a nearby pond near your neighborhood. In fact, it’s present in just about all of the continental USA, except for the dry states of the Southwest. You generally need to do some wading to get up-close and personal with it, unless you have a canoe or kayak.

The leaf blades, dark green or sometimes purplish, are shaped like little footballs with rounded ends. Each blade is attached to a very long leaf stalk at its center, rather than at its edge, and botanists say that the leaf is thus “peltate”, in architecture something like an umbrella with its handle. What is more interesting is that the lower surfaces of the leaves, and for that matter, all the submersed parts of the plant, are thickly coated with a crystal-clear, mucilaginous jelly. Because of this, it is something of a challenge to handle the plants: they are really quite slippery. This mucilage on the stems and leaves may serve some purpose, but we don’t exactly understand what it might be. (Seems like a good research project for an imaginative botany student.)

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

The flowers are not much more than the size of a quarter, deep red or maroon, and barely emerging from the water’s surface, that is, at bullfrog’s eye-level. The flowers appear in the middle of the summer. To many people, this plant looks to be some sort of water-lily, but in fact they are not closely related. Now, each flower has both female and male parts (that is, pistils and stamens). It turns out that a given individual flower will open up and have its pistils fertilized, without giving off any pollen…thus functioning as a “female” flower.  That same day (or evening), the plant will pull the flower under the water. The next day, the SAME flower reemerges from the surface, only this time, sheds pollen from its stamens (now, functioning as a “male” flower). At the end of the second day, the flower disappears underwater again, allowing its seeds to develop, eventually released.

What a strange and wonderful pair of botanical stories. Learn more about America’s fascinating wetland plants! 

[Answer: “Water-shield”, Brasenia schreberi]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit or email

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The Morning Routine

Tom Poland

Posted 9/27/23

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

Come daybreak, my preferred time to get moving, I check on my neighbor’s flag. I check to see that his place is ok after another night of living in America, (thank you, James Brown), and to see if the wind’s about, a weather thing. Generally, all seems well, but as I move toward the kitchen storm winds gather and a US flag flies in the gusts blowing through memory.

As my mother’s health spiraled down, her morning routine became mine. I’ll spare you the details, but it included opening the blinds, getting her glasses, settling her in her favorite chair to watch the news, breakfast, and a glance out the window to see if her flags had wrapped around their staff overnight. Sometimes they had, and I’d walk down the long driveway to free Old Glory and her Georgia Bulldog flag. Sometimes a stick or rake worked. Sometimes I needed a ladder to reach the flags seemingly growing from Georgia pines. Many a morning that was part of my routine. Freeing her flags.

And then she freed herself.


After 247 years, Old Glory takes a break. (Photo by Tom Poland)

Memories of Mom’s flags live on, so when driving back roads, my preferred way to get from A to B, I note the flags attached to homes, trees, and poles. Who keeps an eye on things and how does their day start? Who unwinds those flags when winds toss them about?

My years and miles of flag watching prove revealing. For one thing, I don’t see that many flags at new homes. Nor do I see them at places where hard times dwell. Money’s too tight. I see a correlation too. Old homes, old people, and tattered flags seem to go together. My guess is a sizable stack of years clears the fog, opens eyes, and allows a tad more wisdom, respect, and appreciation to enter.

When I see an old home with foot-high grass and shrubbery a tad wild and a wheelchair ramp I know someone’s flags face windless days. For now who frees the flag wrapped around their staff? What will become of old sun-blanched flags down the road?

The other day a fellow told me to drive a certain back road. I did and I hit the jackpot. That road catapulted me into the past, a land forgotten by time. Around a curve sat a homeplace that compelled me to visit it. On its front porch I spotted a flag resting in a chair. Someone had placed it there with care. Something tells me that flag will fly yet again beneath the Southern sun.

Flags. They symbolize what people feel, believe, and love. Through my windshield I see Old Glory’s red, white, and blue. I see vibrant orange Clemson flags, garnet USC flags, pale orange Tennessee flags, crimson Bama flags, and sometimes a flag from some university where football is just a game, not a religion. Once in a blue moon I see a red flag called truth.

As I wrote this column, I saw with perfect clarity just how time breaks everything. The realization that my youth and homeplace were no more filled my eyes with tears. I almost sobbed. Almost. Memories of home and family life blew into my mind, a wind laden with all that had passed. All that once was. Writing it made me feel like an orphan. Abandoned. Well, we carry on, don’t we.

Today my morning routine includes a visual check on my neighbor’s flag. That’s as close as I get to those days when my mother’s ways became mine. As close as I get to my father who served in Hiroshima and worked so hard to provide for us. As close as I get to the days that shaped me into what I would become.

I’ll go back to that flag in the chair. I’ll kneel before it and thank it for spurring me to write “The Morning Routine.” It made me remember. Made me remember what matters. Made me appreciative.

Tom Poland’s website at

Email Tom about most anything at at 

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Living on Purpose: Take a quiet walk and talk to God today

Dr. William Holland

Posted 9/27/23

By Dr. William Holland

Jesus Christ loves you, and he desires to spend quiet time with you. Our heavenly Father beckons you to draw near to Him and promises that He will respond with compassion. As we go about our busy day, we often do not realize His presence, but like the Sun we do not always see, He is always there. May we listen with our spiritual ears, and be aware that He is always trying to communicate with us. Psalm 46:10 declares, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Lord of mercy and forgiveness is watching over you as a gift of his endless mercy and grace. He cares about your disappointments and heartaches. He adores you.

Time on earth is short, here today gone tomorrow, but eternity will last forever. Each person has a spirit, and every spirit will either live forever with God or forever without Him. Jesus was born into this world, was crucified, and rose from the dead so that whoever believes in him can be spiritually born again and transformed. His blood paid our ransom and forgave our sins. Christ, the spotless lamb of God willingly gave His life and now is waiting for someone to give their heart to Him. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and those who embrace him as Lord, are renewed and prepared to be a vessel of honor. Our heavenly Father is preparing a home in heaven, for all who will live, love, and trust Christ as Redeemer and Savior.

God created you as a unique, one-of-a-kind individual. There is no other person like you. He drew a blueprint for you to follow and wants to intervene, inspire, and empower you to accomplish His plans. It is not about our will, but His will be done. The question is who will do what He says and love Him just for who He is? In this journey, you will have tribulations and trials but do not be afraid or discouraged. If you are born again, greater is He who lives in you, than he who is in the world. God is in total control and has complete authority over all powers and principalities. His angels are all around you and Jesus never takes His eyes away from you. He has engraved you on the palms of His hands.

Within our mission and calling, there are two great commandments above all the others; We are to love God, and love one another as ourselves. If we choose to take up our cross and follow the Lord, we will live in the peace and joy of His presence. He is holy and desires that we have a clean heart so that we can walk closely with Him. Forgive those who have trespassed against you and sincerely pray for them as this will set you free from being offended. Holding on to resentment and hatred is a snare trap and will make our hearts calloused and cold. Be humble, give your anxieties, anger, and fears to Jesus and He will give you rest. Demonstrate His light of forgiveness and discernment that you may dwell in the secret place of the Most High.

He knows our pain and sees every tear. You are His precious child. Trade your bitterness and sorrow for His unspeakable joy that is filled with the hope of His glory. It is in loving and giving that you will find true contentment. Offer up your fervent prayers and burdens for the souls that are lost and hurting. When you reach out to help those in need, you are reaching out to the Lord. Jesus is the Bread of Life and He is the living water. Those who come to Christ will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty again.

Always remember that God’s promises cannot fail. Lean not on your own understanding but believe that your steps are ordered by the Lord. There are times when the way will grow dark and it will seem like you are walking through the valley of death but fear no evil. Remember, you are fighting in a war that has already been won. His word is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. Run into the name of the Lord and rejoice that you are safe and secure. Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Father is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is waiting for you to reach out to Him.

Read more about the Christian life at

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Mystery Plant! #742

John Nelson

Posted 9/27/23

By John Nelson

(Photo by John Nelson.)

I am sad to say that one of my best friends and botany buddies died last year. Steve W. Leonard was a Tarheel from Davidson County NC, graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with his bachelor’s and later master’s degree (in 1973) in botany. I knew him while he had taken up residence in Tallahassee FL, during my stint as a grad student at Florida State University. Steve was something of a mentor for me; I still marvel at his superlative abilities as a field botanist. Nothing escaped his keen eye. He prepared thousands of excellent plant specimens, which, of course, are still with us in a wide variety of herbaria at colleges and universities throughout the country. One of his contributions to science was recognizing the rapid expansion of a particular fern, not native to North America, which had suddenly appeared “on the radar” of Southeastern botanists. Our Mystery Plant continues this saga begun by Steve.

It turns out that back in 1904, a botanist named Alvah Augustus Eaton (from Massachusetts) was studying plant life near Oviedo, Florida…which is in present day Seminole County. Eaton made specimens of a fern which had escaped from cultivation, not knowing exactly what he was dealing with…which of course is our Mystery Plant. Steve Leonard, in 1972, carefully documented the rapidly expanding range of this plant outside of Florida, noting that from 1936 through 1970, herbarium specimens of it had been made from southern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and eastern Texas. Of course, we cannot assume that the plants from Seminole County, Florida had been the sole source of this continuing spread, but we can assume that this fern had not stopped its northward “travels”. And, by the way, it turns out that Steve himself had collected it in 1971 from South Carolina (Aiken County, near the Savannah River), marking its first known occurrence in that state.

Flash forward to the present: botanists since the 1970s have continued to observe this fern in additional states. It is now known as an introduced species from a number of additional South Carolina counties, and it gets as far north as Kentucky and southern Illinois.

It really is an attractive fern, with bright green fronds up to 4 feet long. The fronds are divided delicately into scores of “pinnae” and each of these is further divided, too. As with other ferns, spores are produced on the underside of each frond. The spores are released from tiny structures called sporangia (they are tiny, too), sequestered into little round dots. This species likes to grow in shady woods along creeks, sometimes, but not always, seeming to prefer a limestone substrate. (The image here shows one of several hundred plants which I saw growing last week in a patch in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.)

Although it is attractive, this species bears the trademarks of an invasive plant…and so this little story has a rather dark ending. Time will tell. But thanks to Steve Leonard and a lot of subsequent botanists, we may have a handle on where it’s headed. 

[Answer: “Mariana maiden-fern”, Macrothelypteris torresiana]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit or email

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Blink Book Review #12: History Repeating Itself? Three podcasts and a book, “Against the Tide by Harriet Keyserling”

Reba Campbell

Posted 9/22/23

By Reba Campbell

This book and the recommended podcast episodes should be required reading/listening for anyone who is or was a lobbyist, legislator, page, staffer, reporter or anyone who is just interested in the state’s political history.

I recently devoured three podcast episodes that took me back to the policy issues and politics of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. These podcasts inspired me to dust off a book, “Against the Tide” by Harriet Keyserling written in 1998, that gives great context to the policy and politics of the time and how they still impact us today.

First the podcasts:

  • Podcast hosts and former state senators Vincent Sheheen and Joel Lourie spent an hour in conversation on “Bourbon in the Back Room” with long-time editorial writer Cindi Scoppe from the Post and Courier. She covered the State House for The State paper in the ‘80s and ‘90s and knows more about SC politics than just about anyone in the state.
  • Gavin Jackson interviewed former SC Supreme Court Justice Kay Hearn on SC Public Radio’s “The SC Lede” podcast about the recent rulings on the state’s abortion ban after the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • Casey Fields interviewed former Senate Clerk Jim Fields (her dad) on the Municipal Association’s “From the Dome to Your Home” podcast about his recollections of working for long-time Senator Marion Gressette in the 70s and 80s during a period of rapidly shifting political tides.

Now the book:

All three of these podcast episodes brought up political and policy issues from the ‘70s, ‘80s and early 90s that still taunt South Carolina today. Mulling over these three interviews sent me to my home library to re-read “Against the Tide: One Woman’s Political Struggle,” by former state Representative Harriet Keyserling (D-Beaufort). I remember buying this book at The Happy Bookseller in Columbia when it first came out in 1998, and I was a lobbyist for SCETV.

The book explores the state’s political landscape in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s through Keyserling’s eyes. She represented Beaufort County in the SC House from 1977 until 1993 as one of the few women legislators. There were 12 Republicans (two were women) 13 Blacks and 10 women in the House. She was the first woman from Beaufort County elected to the legislature which followed her election as the first female Beaufort County council member.

At first glance, the 388-page book both looks and feels heavy. The title sounds heavy. And yes, some of the book’s content is dense, especially when she describes all the political machinations around education, state finance policy, nuclear waste and the arts. Keyserling must have kept daily meticulous notes to be able to recall the details of conversations, debates and compromises that she recounts in the book. Dense and heavy it may be, but I found it fascinating.

I devoured the book in less than a week already primed for that era after listening to the podcasts. I’m a little too young to remember the rough and tumble state politics of the 70s, but I did gain a front row seat in the legislative arena as a page in the SC Senate in the early 1980s. While, at the time, I didn’t have the perspective to understand the bigger picture political context, I do remember the days of girl pages who had to wear dresses and answer phones while the boy pages got to accompany the legislators to the floor.

The book explores in vivid, first-person detail, what it was like to be a woman  – and a Jewish woman – in the state legislature that was only just beginning to crack the long-established, rural-focused, good old boys network in the late 1970s. Keyserling describes how her naïveté about the mechanics of the General Assembly actually worked in her favor as she quietly (at first) learned the ropes by watching coalitions develop and across-the-aisle friendships flourish.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter about “Women and Politics,” recognizing the names of many women I’ve admired over the years, including Nancy Stevenson whom I had the pleasure to know when I was a page for her in college (and she didn’t relegate the girl pages to just answering the phone). A major “women’s issue” of the time was passage of the ERA, but the chapter also touches on issues like reproductive choice, domestic violence, housing and nuclear energy that Keyserling championed over the years.

The book is peppered with long-established names like Blatt, Gressette and Riley (Dick and Joe). It not only describes groundbreaking reforms like the Education Finance Act and the Education Improvement Act, but also reminds us of other legislative changes that took place in that era like mini bottle sales, blue law repeal, establishment of a state reserve fund and passage of home rule.

Anyone involved with education policy in South Carolina should read the 22-page chapter focusing solely on the Education Improvement Act that passed in 1984. When Gov. Dick Riley first circulated the bill, he found 21 sponsors that Keyserling describes in the book as “the Smurfs … an unlikely medley of people” that included Republicans and Democrats, Blacks and whites, rural and urban, men and women – none of whom were in leadership. She notes Gov. Riley said, “We had to organize a new leadership” to get the bill passed.

The chapter goes on to describe how the EIA efforts trace their roots back to a 1951 study committee then-Gov. Hollings established to look at school funding. Her narrative could be describing today’s’ ongoing education debate around teacher pay, tax increases, education equity, race relations and school choice. She even noted “… if the move toward schools vouchers becomes successful, there will be further competition for public education funds.” She writes the effort was stifled in 1996, but noted “it can always re-appear.” Foreshadowing, for sure!

Keyserling retired in 1993 and her son Billy took over her seat (he later went on to become Beaufort’s mayor). After her retirement, she returned to Beaufort focusing on passion projects until her death in 2010.

For anyone interested in reading this book, it’s hard to find. The Richland Library’s copy is only available for in-library use. Copies are still available through the USC Press and Amazon. I’m always happy to lend out my copy to anyone who shares my love of SC politics in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s    as long as you don’t mind the dogeared and marked-up pages!

In 2022, Reba Campbell set out to get off the screens and back to books for the summer. She set a goal of reading a book a week. Her accountability was writing short Blink Book Reviews (so short you can read them in a blink). Join Reba’s Blink Book Review Facebook group to follow along. Reba is president of The Medway Group can be reached at

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Mystery Plant! #741

John Nelson

Posted 9/20/23

By John Nelson

“The average American’s simplest and commonest form of breakfast consists of coffee and beefsteak.”
                                                                                                -attributed to Mark Twain
(Photo by Linda Lee.)

This week’s Mystery Plant is sometimes called “Beefsteak plant”, so the common name is not a mystery. But what a really interesting plant it is, in part because of its common name. I’m not really why, except that the leaves on some plants, in various circumstances, are reddish, like meat.

This species is native to eastern Asia, where it occurs in at least two similar forms, both of which are used as a culinary herb: one of the varieties provides a flavorful oil from the crushed seeds, popular in Korean and Japanese dishes. The leaves have a curiously oily, musky flavor, and they are sweet to the taste (well, to mine), and you’ll sometimes see it served with sushi. The species has been introduced into North America, and is now widely distributed in most of the eastern states, usually considered a weed. It is blooming now here in central South Carolina, and I’m seeing it frequently, often in association with “fill” soil and around bridges and causeways.

This plant, of course, is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), known mostly for its great variability in fragrance (mint…basil…sage…rosemary…lavender…) and a huge number of attractive ornamentals (especially the sages, in the genus Salvia). There are plenty of Southeastern native species in this family, too, which have been adapted for gardens, such as mountain-mint, lion’s mane, and obedient plant. There are plenty of weeds, as well: Florida “betony” is a relatively recent, and troublesome, interloper in gardens throughout the Southeast.

(Photo by Linda Lee.)

Beefsteak Plant is perfectly placed within the mint family, with its square stems and opposite leaves. The leaves are stalked, and oval-shaped, usually with toothy margins. The flowers are equipped with a tubular calyx (green), and a tubular corolla (pink). The corolla, bearing four tiny stamens inside, is bilabiate, that is, featuring an upper and lower lip. These flowers are popular with bees and butterflies. Each individual flower can make 4 separate little seeds (one-seeded fruits, actually). After blooming, the plants lose their leaves. In the dead of winter, the dried stems remain, most of the time, forming interesting dried arrangements along paths and garden margins. If you walk through a patch, the stems will give off a delicate clatter. Of course, it does spread by seed, and those seeds do get around.

Many gardeners will recognize the close resemblance this plant has with the popular garden Coleus, but they aren’t the same thing. It is a weed in some cases, but is sometimes grown on purpose for its fragrant leaves. Again, the leaves don’t smell like mint. In fact, the leaves were at one time used as a flavoring agent in cigars. I’m wondering now if the leaves of this plant wouldn’t be good as a substitute for basil, with ripe tomatoes, offered with sliced mozzarella, slathered with olive oil, and generously sprinkled with salt and pepper…?

[Answer: “Beefsteak plant”, Perilla frutescens]

John Nelson is the retired curator of the Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit or email

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Stuart Neiman Cartoon: Bye Bye Mitt

Posted 9/20/23

By Stuart Neiman

This content is being shared through the S.C. News Exchange and is for use in SCPA member publications. Please use appropriate bylines and credit line