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Sand Hills

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About the Sand Hills

The Sand Hills are a region of the Southeastern Coastal Plain, located in the northwestern or inlandmost portion of the plain, stretching from southern North Carolina, through South Carolina and Georgia.

This region ranges from an irregular plain to low hills, and is heavily dissected by a dense drainage network of low-to-moderate gradient, sandy-bottomed streams. This region is covered by sands of marine origin, and their decomposition residuum. Much of the sand is coarse and poor at holding nutrients, but soil textures are diverse, with some finer-textured loamy and clayey soils, particularly on side-slopes. There are some areas with plinthite formations, an iron-rich clay soil that formed through weathering. These and other clay layers beneath the surface can impede drainage, leading water to seep and flow laterally underground. Because most of the water percolates through the coarse sands to the water table, streams here tend to be supplied by the water table and have a consistent flow year-round, with minimal flooding or receding during wet or dry weather. The soils here are poorly suited to Western agriculture as they are prone to drought and the quick leaching of nutrients.

This area was originally mostly forested, with some open savanna on the driest sites. Most of the region was covered in Oak-Hickory-Pine forest. The driest sites featured a more open, fire-prone community of turkey oak (Quercus laevis) and longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), also with blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica), particularly in the north, with an understory of pineland threeawn (Aristida stricta). Richer sites probably supported oak-hickory-pine forest. Although total plant biodiversity here is lower than in some of the more fertile neighboring regions, this area has a high portion of rare plants due to the uniqueness of the habitats here.

Present land use here is mixed. There is still extensive forest, but there are some areas of pasture, horse farms, and peach orchards, and some golf courses. Logging and fire suppression has changed the forest composition here, increasing the dominance of pine forests with shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). On richer sites, some oak-pine forest remains, but there is less hickory than originally occurred here. In Georgia, this region is mostly used for pine plantations, and there is also some cropland and hay production. This region also has some urbanization, particularly towards its southern end: most of the metro areas of Augusta, Columbus, and Macon, GA, are located here, and the region also includes part of the metro area of Columbia, SC.

As this area stretches over a long distance, it borders many regions. Along the floodplains of major rivers it borders the Southeastern Floodplains and Low Terraces to the southeast. In the rest of the areas, in its northern portion it is bordered to the southeast by the Atlantic Southern Loam Plains, and in the southern portion, it is bordered to the southeast by the Coastal Plain Red Uplands. At its far southwestern end it is bordered to the southwest by the Southern Hilly Gulf Coastal Plain. To the northwest, inland, this area borders various various regions of the Piedmont. At its northernmost end, it has two borders with the Triassic Basins, and then several alternating borders the Carolina Slate Belt. and the Southern Outer Piedmont, which borders this region along a long, unbroken stretch through Georgia. West of the Chattahoochee River, in Alabama, this region is replaced by the geologically similar Fall Line Hills; although the border between these regions is arbitrary, that region begins curving northwest and eventually extends farther inland.

Plant Lists & In-Region Search

We do not yet have data to generate plant lists for a region as fine-tuned as this one. However you can move up to the broader Southeastern Plains and generate lists for that region: native plants or all plants. Or search that region's plants here:


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

2. Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Comstock, J.A., Lawrence, S., Martin, G., Goddard, A., Hulcher, V.J., and Foster, T. "Ecoregions of Alabama and Georgia (color poster with map, descriptive text, summary tables, and photographs)", U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA (2001) Web.