Nature & Science

big tree - view looking up from ground

NPS Photo

The dynamic and diverse natural landscape that makes up Congaree National Park is defined by the presence of both flood and flame. Here visitors can experience both a unique old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, home to numerous national and state champion trees and one of the most biodiverse forests in the nation, as well as an upland pine forest where fire plays a key role in its health and survival.

The bottomland region that makes up much of Congaree National Park is regularly covered by floodwaters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers. These floods deposit fresh, nutrient rich soil across the landscape that helps to maintain the health of this ecosystem. Forested wetlands, oxbow lakes, sloughs, and slow-moving creeks cover and cover the landscape and provide essential habitat for fish, amphibians, and other aquatic life, as well as bald cypress and tupelo trees. In other parts of the floodplain, slight changes in elevation have helped to create a variety of different ecosystems that support a diverse array of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects, as well as trees such as giant old-growth oaks and massive loblolly pines.

Along the bluffs on the northern edge of the floodplain stands an upland pine forest. Now dominated by loblolly pines, remnants of the once abundant longleaf pines that covered this upland region have managed to hold on and can still be seen. These fire-resistant trees depend on wildfires to regularly burn across the landscape, clearing out competitors such as sweetgum, turkey oak, shrubs and vines, while also helping to create and maintain open, grassy pine savannahs that are home to wildlife such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and southern fox squirrel, all of which are today threatened or endangered due to habitat loss.

Across the southeastern United States, old-growth bottomland forests like that found here at Congaree once covered approximately 30 million acres, while longleaf pine savannahs covered an estimated 90 million acres. Due to logging and the clearing of the landscape for farming and the building and expansion of cities and towns over the past 400 years, only a few scattered remnants of these once common ecosystems persist. Today, Congaree National Park helps preserve examples of these now uncommon natural landscapes and the diverse plant and animal life they support, as well as allowing visitors to experience and learn about what makes them so unique, as well as why they are worth saving.

Curious what species of plants and animals can be found at Congaree National Park? Search our species database below.

 

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Last updated: March 2, 2021

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Mailing Address:

100 National Park Road
Hopkins, SC 29061

Phone:

(803) 776-4396

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