Congaree National Park

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The author at the entrance to the park. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Situated in the middle of South Carolina, Congaree National Park preserves the largest remaining old-growth hardwood floodplain forest left in the United States. Prior to European settlement some 52 million acres of these bottomland forests blanketed the southeast. While most were extensively logged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, these 26,000 acres survived unscathed thanks to the dedication of a number of conservation-minded individuals. Perhaps the most important was Harry Hampton, and the visitor center that bears his name provides an impressive gateway to this lush wilderness.

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High boardwalk through the lush foliage. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Initially protected as a national monument in 1976, Congaree was redesignated as a national park in 2003. It’s also been officially recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve, a National Natural Landmark, and a Globally Important Bird Area. Two-thirds of the park is designated wilderness and is virtually inaccessible even by foot or canoe.

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Cypress along the water. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

As one of our nation’s youngest national parks it’s also one of our lesser-known. While lacking the grandiose scenery of many other parks, it’s nevertheless beautiful and fascinating for a number of other reasons.

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Cypress along the water. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

This dense forest is full of a wide variety of trees, many of which attain record-setting sizes. The largest loblolly pines (Pinus taeda, Pinaceae) in the world are found here, reaching nearly 170 feet in height.

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Huge pine along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum, Cupressaceae) are common here as well, with some over 27 feet in circumference.

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Massive bald cypress along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

These huge trees are easily recognizable by the wide buttress roots and knee roots that help hold them securely in the soft, wet ground.

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Cypress with knee roots along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Massive cherrybark oaks, American elms, water tupelos, and nearly 80 other species round out the wide variety of trees found here. This extensive forest harbors a vast array of wildlife as well, including alligators, bobcats, armadillos, and many other mammals, birds, snakes, lizards, amphibians, and fish. Insects also abound here, and the most notable are the mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae):

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Mosquito meter at the Harry Hampton visitor center. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

In spite of the warning my wife and I set out with our 30% DEET repellent last week to see this wonder of nature. In addition to the ubiquitous mosquitoes we also came across a darner dragonfly (Odonata: Aeshnidae) that rode around on my jeans for a while…

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Darner dragonfly latched onto my leg. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

…as well as this cool tiger beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae: Cicindelinae):

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Tiger beetle along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Along the low boardwalk bald cypress were common:

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The low boardwalk snaking through the cypress. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

We also saw a number of sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua, Hamamelidaceae)…

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Sweetgum tree photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

American holly (Ilex opaca, Aquifoliaceae)…

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American holly photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides, Bromeliaceae)…

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Spanish moss photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

…as well as some of The Palmetto State’s namesake palmettos (Sabal sp., Arecaceae):

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Palmettos photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

Although we had started down the four mile Weston Lake Trail, an afternoon thunderstorm soon had us heading back toward the high boardwalk.

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High boardwalk photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

By the time we reached Weston Lake the torrential rain prevented us from searching for the alligators that live here. We did, however, take shelter under the thick trees until the rain let up a bit.

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Weston Lake during a torrential afternoon thunderstorm. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

With our tails between our legs we quickly made our way back towards our car. The sights along the high boardwalk were cool but the continuous rain kept us from stopping much.

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High boardwalk as an afternoon thundertsorm moved off. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

On the way out we came across this cool fungus:

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Cool fungus along the high boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

As luck would have it the rain stopped as soon as we got back to our car. Our sopping wet clothes and distant rumbles of additional thunderstorms prevented us from venturing back out, but we got a nice introduction to the wonder of Congaree. One could easily spend several days hiking, canoeing, and camping in the backcountry of this amazing national park and still not see it all. Perhaps in the future I might like to try.

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Bald cypress along the low boardwalk. Photographed 06/04/2013 at Congaree National Park, South Carolina.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Ecology, Entomology, Fungi, Invertebrate Zoology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Congaree National Park

  1. We lived in SC for a few years, and really enjoyed going to Congaree. On our visit there a couple of years ago, we saw a huge water mocassin, a first for me. ~James

    Like

  2. photosbyandy says:

    that looks like a really cool place to visit. I will have to look it one day

    Like

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