The South has long been a region apart, even though it is not isolated by any formidable natural barriers and is itself subdivided into many distinctive areas: the coastal plains along the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico; the Piedmont; the ridges, valleys, and high mountains bordering the Piedmont, especially the Great Smoky Mts. in North Carolina and Tennessee; areas of bluegrass, black-soil prairies, and clay hills west of the mountains; bluffs, floodplains, bayous, and delta lands along the Mississippi River; and W of the Mississippi, the interior plains and the Ozark Plateau.
The humid subtropical climate, however, is one unifying factor. Winters are neither long nor very cold, and no month averages below freezing. The long, hot growing season (nine months at its peak along the Gulf) and the fertile soil (much of it overworked or ruined by erosion) have traditionally made the South an agricultural region where such staples as tobacco, rice, and sugarcane have long flourished; citrus fruits, livestock, soybeans, and timber have gained in importance. Cotton, once the region's dominant crop, is now mostly grown in Texas, the Southwest, and California.
Since World War II, the South has become increasingly industrialized. High-technology (such as aerospace and petrochemical) industries have boomed, and there has been impressive growth in the service, trade, and finance sectors. The chief cities of the South are Atlanta, New Orleans, Charlotte, Miami, Memphis, and Jacksonville.
From William Byrd (1674–1744) to William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, the South has always had a strong regional literature. Its most recurrent subject has been the Civil War, reflected in song and poetry from Paul Hamilton Hayne to Allen Tate and in novels from Thomas Nelson Page to Margaret Mitchell.