Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve in Lexington County is a 460-acre sanctuary that boasts some of the state’s most diverse plant communities along with the unique sandstone formations that lend the preserve its name. The land is jointly managed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy.
The sandstone formations, including Peachtree Rock pictured above, originated millions of years ago when oceans washed over the ancient shoreline of the Midlands. Erosion from the sea ultimately created these remarkable boulders, with heavy tops made of ironstone supported by narrow bottoms made of brittle sandstone.
Their unusual shape gave the rocks their nickname, as many say they resemble peach trees. The fact that the formations have balanced here for millions of years is incredible. Sadly, the preserve’s signature Peachtree Rock finally toppled on December 8, 2013.
To date, it has not been determined if the downing of the rock was natural or the act of vandals. However, it is known that vandals carving into the rock over the years accelerated the weakening of the formation’s base. For years people have been carving their initials into the soft sandstone, and evidence of saw blades can be seen in the base of Peachtree Rock.
Managers from both the Nature Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources doubt they will ever know the cause of the rock’s fall. The rock will remain on its side, in the same spot it has occupied for millions of years.
While the rocks are a popular sight for visitors to see, the preserve’s noted plant diversity also draws people from all over. With habitats ranging from damp valleys punctuated by the Hunt Branch (a creek) to rocky cliffs generously dusted with sand, 245 plant species abound. The mountainous plants galax (Galax urceolata) and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) grow on slopes and at the lower stream heads, while the xeric, sandy ridge above is home to longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and turkey oak (Quercus laevis).
The preserve also harbors the Midlands’ only naturally-occurring waterfall. Less than 20 feet high, the descending water is a beautiful anomaly within the South Carolina sandhills.
The rocks and plants of the preserve are wonders to experience, yet as evidenced by Peachtree Rock, they are fragile. Though Peachtree Rock has been roped off for years, people nonetheless crossed the rope to touch the precarious stone.
The Department of Natural Resources asks that visitors not climb the preserve’s formations, including the fallen Peachtree Rock, for their own safety and also to ensure that the formations remain in their natural state for as long as possible.