Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park is a 27,000 acre park that was established in 2003 along the Congaree River in central South Carolina. The park contains the largest contiguous tract of old-growth floodplain hardwood forest in the entire United States, in addition to some of the tallest trees.

Congaree National Park is a well-preserved, biologically diverse floodplain ecosystem that contains hundreds of species of animals and plants, including 75 tree species and 175 bird species, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. A variety of forest communities are represented within the park, ranging from upland pines along the elevated bluffs to bottomland species such as bald cypress and water tupelo in the floodplain areas. The park is designated as an International Biosphere Reserve and Globally Important Bird Area.

Floodplain forests are found in floodplains and deepwater swamps that are inundated for most of the growing season and can range from broad river floodplains to narrow strips along stream channels. Soils of floodplain forests are often higher in organic matter, but more acidic. Overall, these forest ecosystems tend to be more productive than upland forests, most likely due to the availability of nutrients and consistent flooding. Another characteristic of these floodplain hardwood forests is a natural fire regime that occurs approximately once every 25 years.

More than 52 million acres of floodplain forests existed in the South until the later part of the 19th century. Although these bottomland forests have been greatly reduced in area by filling, draining, and conversion to agriculture and other land use types, substantial portions of the region are still covered, especially on the coastal plains. Only 13,000 acres of bottomland forests exist in South Carolina, 11,000 of which are located in Congaree National Park.

Old-growth floodplain forests often occur in stands that contain few or no commercially viable tree species in sufficient volume, or they occur in areas that are either inaccessible or are difficult to convert to other economic uses with available technology. Some small pockets of old growth often exist in areas where private landowners have protected them for aesthetic, conservation, or personal reasons. Remaining wetland forests continue to be under threat from fragmentation, manipulation of the water table by ditching and draining, and fire suppression.

Sources: 

Congaree National Park, South Carolina. National Park Service, U.S Department of the Interior. Online at http://www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm.

Snyder, S. A. 1993. Southern floodplain forest. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [2009, September 30].

Lynch, J. Merrill. “Old Growth in Southeastern Wetlands.” In Davis, Mary Byrd, Ed. Eastern Old-Growth Forests: Prospects for Rediscovery and Recovery. Washington, DC. Island Press: 1996.

Images: 

Canoeing in Baldcypress Swamp Towering Baldcypress Tree Giant Baldcypress Tree Flood in the Congaree Baldcypress in Congaree National Park Bottomland Forest in Congaree

Category: 
Composition