Wetlands are regions of transition between aquatic environments and uplands where water is near the surface of soil. Common wetlands found in South Carolina include swamps, marshes, bogs and meadows. Despite the challenging soil conditions, many plants have adapted to survive in these oxygen-poor environments.
The cattail is one of the most recognizable plant found in wetlands. This aquatic plant is typically found along the edges of swamps, lakes, rivers and ponds. The tall upright stems of cattails emerge from the shallow water, reaching heights up to 10 feet tall. Cigar-shaped flowers grace the tip of cattails with little yellow spikes protruding from the tops. Cattails grow in dense clusters and serve as an important source of food for many forms of wildlife. Every part of the cattail is edible for animals, and it is not uncommon to see wetland dwelling creatures taking up shelter in the tall reeds. Cattails need oxygen and sunlight to thrive, so they are not typically found in the heart of marshes and swamps, but instead, line the edges.
Swamp lily is a perennial aquatic plant common in wetlands throughout South Carolina and the southeastern United States. It is found throughout the entire southeastern portion of the United States. This flower is recognized by its base, which resembles an onion-like bulb. Flowers emerge from the long stalk out of the bulb. The leaves are typically 3 inches wide and can be up to 3 feet long. Swamp lily produces blooms in shades of either white or pink with a total of six petals on each flower. Like the cattail, swamp lily takes to the edges of wetlands since sunlight is more abundant.
Bald cypress trees are among the most common wetland trees in the southeastern United States. They have uniquely adapted to swamp life and can thrive in the dense, flooded areas of swamplands. These trees are known for their "knees," called pnematophores, which appear above the surface water. Although the reason for the knees is unknown, it is believed they facilitate some sort of respiration essential for the tree’s survival in the low-oxygen environment. Bases of bald cypress trees appear swollen due to the constant flooding and soaking of water at the base of the tree. Bald cypress only germinates once the water levels reach the surface soil. The oldest cypress tree in the United States is estimated to be 600 years old, but it is believed that they can live up to 1000 years.