We’re in the woods near Folkston, Georgia, with a mother and daughter who are collecting the materials to make Palmetto brooms. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.
A Palmetto is a kind of palm tree that grows in marshy areas of the Southeastern United States. Collected and dried, the tree’s long fronds can be transformed into a variety of crafts, from dolls to baskets, to brooms.
“When you’re cutting brooms, the stems for the brooms, you cut the longest stems you can possibly get, with the thickest stem and you don’t cut the stem that’s closest to the new growth, because that’s the last growth and it’s really weak and it doesn’t make a very good broom handle.”
Judy Drury learned how to make Palmetto brooms from her mother.
“Next step is separating your fans. You separate them into three pieces so this is going to be the head of your broom to sweep with. The two outside pieces is got to be smaller than the middle piece. And mama’s the best judge about how much to put in there. Sometimes, sometimes I put too much.”
Using long strips of fabric, Judy and her mother bind the Palmetto fronds together, being careful to keep them splayed out evenly.
According to tradition, it’s important to collect the Palmetto fronds during the waxing moon, because once the moon begins to wane, the fronds become weak and shriveled. And as you might expect, every broom is different.
“That’s the beauty of something handmade. It’s not perfect. No matter what you do, it’s not perfect. Never has been and never will be.”
Our special thanks to folklorist Laurie Sommers.
Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.