The Unique Scent of Charleston Pluff Mud

The Unique Scent of Charleston Pluff Mud

pluff mud

Image to the left taken from photo/

The marshlands of the Charleston Lowcountry have framed many a sunrise photo or an evening stroll near the water. Among the tall grasses live egrets, fiddler crabs and other creatures drawn to the salt marshes and into the pluff mud.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, South Carolina has more than 344,000 acres of salt marsh – the most of any state on the East Coast. The water levels and salinity of the marshlands vary with the rise and fall of the tide and rainfall.

As the freshwater flows into the marshes it brings with it a heavy load of silt that fertilizes the marsh but also smothers the plants. It can also cause breathing problems for the marsh animals. This silting creates a gooey substance known as “pluff mud.”

Visitors will probably notice the smell of pluff mud before they actually notice the mud lining the marsh floor. Plants and animals that die in the marsh are lost in the mud and decompose there. That decomposition makes for a nutrient-rich soil but also produces a stinky byproduct sulfur gas that smells something like rotten eggs.

Just hold your nose and recognize nature is hard at work in the circle of life. And talk with any Charleston local and you’ll find “pluff mud” (sometimes spelled “plough”) is an endearing term. It’s part of business names and even a porter made by Holy City Brewing Co. A Summerville-based company, Pluff Mud Apparel, produces unique T-shirts dyed in pluff mud and screen printed with Lowcountry-themed designs.

Why “pluff” you wonder? Good question. We’re not sure how it came to be called “pluff,” but some sources surmise it’s because you would hear a “pliff” sound if you tried to extract your foot from the thick muddy goo. Plus “pluff mud” sounds better than “smelly mud.”

Let us know if you catch a whiff of the pluff mud on your next tour around the Charleston harbor and if you think it’s as endearing as most locals do.

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