Physical Geography

South CarolinaSouth Carolina is one of the Southern States of the United States.

South Carolina occupies parts of three physical regions of the United States—the Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Piedmont Plateau, and the Blue Ridge. Each crosses the state from northeast to southwest, roughly paralleling the Atlantic coast. South Carolinians call the coastal plain the Low Country; the Piedmont and Blue Ridge, which are part of the Appalachian Highlands, are known as the Up Country. Separating the two sections is the Fall Line, the zone along which waterfalls and rapids occur as rivers descend to lower elevations.

The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a broad lowland that occupies about two-thirds of the state. Near the coast the land is generally flat and marked by extensive swamps and marshes. Numerous small islands, often called the Sea Islands, fringe the southern coast. Separating them from the mainland is a maze of narrow straits, sounds, and tidal rivers. On the inner parts of the coastal plain the terrain becomes gently rolling and gradually rises to elevations of about 500 feet (150 m) in the hills near the Fall Line.

The Piedmont Plateau is an elevated region that slopes gently upward from the Fall Line to the foot of the Blue Ridge. The land consists chiefly of long rolling hills 500 to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 m) above sea level; in places it is deeply eroded by rivers. Occasional isolated hills, called monadnocks, stand as much as 500 feet (150 m) above the general level of the terrain.

The Blue Ridge is a mountainous area in the extreme northwestern corner of South Carolina. Rounded, forested mountains, separated by deep valleys, rise rather abruptly from the Piedmont to heights of more than 3,000 feet (900 m). Sassafras Mountain, the state's highest point, reaches 3,560 feet (1,085 m) near the North Carolina border.


South Carolina is drained by three major river systems, all flowing southeastward from the Appalachians to the Atlantic Ocean. The Santee River, with such head-streams and tributaries as the Wateree, Congaree, Saluda, and Broad rivers, is the largest in the state. It drains most of the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont. In the northeast the Pee Dee River flows from North Carolina across the coastal plain, where it is joined by the Little Pee Dee and the Lynches. The Savannah River and two of its headstreams—the Tugaloo and the Chattooga—form the border with Georgia. Many rivers have been dammed to provide hydroelectric power, flood control, and recreational areas.

South Carolina's principal lakes are artificial reservoirs impounded by dams. The largest of these is Lake Marion on the Santee River. Others, wholly or partly within the state, include Hartwell, J. Strom Thurmond, Moultrie, Murray, Richard B. Russell, and Keowee.


South Carolina has a humid subtropical climate, marked by hot summers, cool winters, and abundant precipitation. Throughout most of the state temperatures average around 80° F. (27° C.) in July and from 45° to 50° F. (7° to 10° C.) in January. The mountainous areas are slightly cooler the year round. Daytime highs of 90° F. (32° C.) or more occur frequently in summer. During brief winter cold spells temperatures drop to well below freezing at night.

Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year and varies from about 40 to 50 inches (1,020 to 1,270 mm) annually in most areas. Parts of the Blue Ridge receive 70 inches (1,780 mm) or more. Only a small amount of the total precipitation falls as snow, virtually all of it in the mountains. Tornadoes may occur at any time of the year but are most frequent in April and May. During spring and fall hurricanes occasionally move in from the Atlantic, causing wind damage and flooding, especially along the coast.

Natural Vegetation and Wildlife
South Carolina'sSouth Carolina's state flower is the yellow jessamine.

Forests cover almost two-thirds of the state; almost all are second-growth stands, mostly of commercial quality. Softwoods are the most abundant and economically valuable trees; they consist mainly of species of yellow pine such as loblolly and longleaf pines. Principal hardwoods are black gum, sweet gum, yellow poplar, and oak. Bald cypress grows in swampy areas; palmettos, live oaks, and magnolias are found along the coast.

A wide variety of flowering shrubs are native to South Carolina. Among the most colorful are rhododendron, azalea, and mountain laurel.

Black bears and alligators, although rare, can still be found in South Carolina. Whitetailed deer, fox, mink, muskrats, opossums, otters, rabbits, skunks, and squirrels are numerous. Lizards and snakes are the chief reptiles. Songbirds are numerous and varied; waterfowl abound along the coast, especially during migration. A great variety of freshwater and saltwater fish are found in South Carolina's waters.

South Carolina'sSouth Carolina's state tree is the palmetto.
Interesting facts about South Carolina
The first musical society in America, the St. Cecilia Society, was established in Charleston in 1762.
The Fireproof Building, completed in Charleston in 1826, was the first building in the United States constructed to withstand fire. It was designed by Robert Mills, the architect of the Washington Monument. The building currently houses the Historical Society of South Carolina.
"Heart of pine" houses, built in South Carolina in colonial times, still stand today. Timber was so plentiful during the state's early days that "sapwood" was thrown away, and only the hearts of pine trees were used. This wood is said to keep indefinitely.
The first museum in the American Colonies was opened by the Charleston Library Society in 1773. The museum featured objects related to the natural history of South Carolina.
The reformed branch of Judaism in America originated in Charleston in 1824 with the Reformed Society of Israelites.
The first commercial tea farm in the United States was established at Summerville in 1890 by Charles Shepard.
The first steam locomotive to be placed in regular passenger and freight service was the Best Friend of Charleston. This locomotive, built for the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company, made its first run on Christmas Day in 1830.