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Carolina Flatwoods

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About the Carolina Flatwoods

The Carolina Flatwoods are a region of the coastal plain extending from southern North Carolina, through South Carolina.

This region is nearly level, with only subtle changes in elevation. This region formed under shallow coastal waters during the Pleistocene, the epoch leading up to the most recent glacial period, which produced terraces and other shoreline-related landforms here. Soil types here are fairly diverse, most commonly fine to coarse loams, but sometimes sand, clay, or organic muck soils. There are large areas of poorly-drained soils, and much of the region has periodically-high water tables and experiences seasonal flooding as a result. Some areas have Carolina bays (broad elliptical depressions filled with swamp-like plant communities of magnolias and laurels) and Pocosins (boglike wetlands with deep, acidic, peaty soil.)

This region has high plant biodiversity, significantly more than the regions to the north; there is a large portion of endemic and rare species here as well.

Original vegetation cover here was diverse, including pine flatwoods, pine savannas, freshwater marshes, pond pine woodlands, pocosins, and sandhills.

This area has been extensively altered. Large portions of it are utilized for forestry, mostly in plantations of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), which support dramatically less biodiversity than the natural forests. Many parts of this region have also been artificially drained both for forestry and agriculture. There is some blueberry cultivation on sites with sandy, acidic soils. Overall, forest cover is higher here than areas farther inland, but much of this forest is plantation rather than true wild forest. Although most of this region is sparsely populated, there is significant urbanization and suburban development around Summerville, SC, which can be seen as part of the Charleston, SC metro area, and a smaller amount of suburbanization can be found here at the northwest margins of the Wilmington, NC metro area.

To the north, this region transitions gradually into the Mid-Atlantic Flatwoods. Although subjective and not well-defined, this border corresponds loosely to the northern limit of many plant species, including pineland threeawn (Aristida stricta), as well as the border of the Southern Mixed Hardwood forest type. Although longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) extends farther north, it becomes much less common. The fire frequency here is also higher (once every 1-3 years) than the region to the north (every 4-6 years.)

To the northwest, inland, most of this region borders the Atlantic Southern Loam Plains, except at the northern end of this region where a small portion instead borders the Rolling Coastal Plain; these borders are well-defined geologically, in most places marked by the Surry Scarp, but there can still be considerable uncertainty about where to draw the border in places. The more inland loam plains tend to have higher elevations, greater relief, and are better drained, and as such there is more agriculture there.

Interspersed throughout the northern portion of this region are areas of Swamps and Peatlands, areas consistently lower, flatter, and more poorly-drained that include the larger swamps and peatlands. However, it can be subjective which areas to include in that separate region vs treating as smaller wetlands within this region. Also interspersed throughout this region, along the floodplains of rivers, are the Mid-Atlantic Floodplains and Low Terraces, a region mostly covered in swamp forests.


1. Comstock, J.A.; Griffith, G.E.; Omernik, J.M. "Ecoregions of North Carolina: Regional Descriptions", (2002) Web.