Sandhills Landform | A Natural State

Aerial photograph courtesy of SC Dept. of Natural Resources, Map Lab


Featured Artists: Brian Rust  | Janet Orselli | Leslie Pierce

The Sandhills is a band of 100,000 million year old sand dunes and marine deposits stretching diagonally across the state. A sudden drop in elevation marks another unique landscape feature of the region, the Fall Line. This escarpment was created by erosion along the ancient coastline, and is revealed by rocky whitewater rapids along the area's wide, flat rivers. In the early 18th century, rapids at the Fall Line prevented riverboats from traveling farther inland. Colonial settlements rested at the navigable bounds of area rivers. In 1786, the capital city of Columbia (Richland County) was relocated to the central Sandhills area in order to network economic and political interests of the Upcountry and Lowcountry. In the early 19th century, canals connected upcountry riverboat traffic to lowcountry seaports and the Sandhills area population grew as trade, state government, and the cotton textile industry took root.


The Sandhills Zone is marked by a band of gentle, rounded hills that cross the midlands of the state. Over 100 million years ago, much of inland South Carolina was covered by the ocean. The shoreline peaked in the region of the Sandhills, and the unusual terrain is the result of ancient sand dunes and other coastal features. Sediments and marine deposits typical of the Coastal Zone can be found in the area.


Sandy soils of the Sandhills rapidly drain water away from plant roots. The result is vegetation that is adapted to dry conditions, including long leaf pine and turkey oak. Loblolly and slash pines are also common, yet nonnative, trees that were introduced to the area for timber. The understory, or low lying growth, of Sandhills forests includes unique species of sparkleberry, sand myrtle, and wild rosemary.


Sandy soils do not retain water and nutrients well, so farming is limited in the Sandhills. Only about eight percent of soils in the area are considered prime farmland. Some truck crops (tomatoes, lettuce, melons, etc…) and peaches are grown with care in the Sandhills. A lack of agricultural resources is offset by the Sandhills unique geological resources, clay and kaolin.