20 February 2009

Flower Friday

The sinewy forms of winter weeds
Papaver somniferum
Narcissus (Psst! Spring is coming!)
Gazania 'Sundrop'
Camellia japonica

09 February 2009

Got Inceptisols?

As I sit stunned and reeling from the latest academic catastrophe that was my Soil Science quiz, I find myself staring at the title of my blog and wondering if I've quite gotten it all wrong? What is soil, anyway, and if I have got it, then what? I wander outside and stand on the newly emerged turf, staring at the stuff beneath my shoes and wondering what's so great that we have to know so much about it. Then all the lessons of the past five weeks come flooding back in an avalanche so magnificent as to inspire me to scream and take cover in the greenhouse. Only soil-less medium, there.

When sanity once again achieved equilibrium I calmly realized that we are, after all, here to study horticulture. Given that plants are most commonly planted in and grow out of the soil, we must endeavor to understand this strange and foreign substance on which we trod. Thanks to our Soil Science class, I now know more about soil than I ever thought possible. And we still have six more weeks to go.

Here are a few things I can tell you about soil:

  • Similar to the Kingdom Plantae, soil can be broken down into the following taxonomic classifications: Order, Suborder, Great Group, Sub Group, Family, and Series (who knew!?).
  • In Soil Taxonomy, all twelve of the soil Orders end in "sols" (which, incidentally, is how they pronounce "soils" in the South).
  • Soil respires. It can also weep, sneeze, belch, and hold its breath.
  • Soil is a deep, deep subject (no pun intended).
  • The color of soil is not brown. According to some guy named Munsell, soil color can be 10YR 8/6, or 10YR 6/1 or anywhere in between. Whatever it is, simply "brown" it is not.
  • Schist is a metamorphic rock, or parent material, from which some soils are born. It is also an appropriately colorful metaphor for those studying Soil Science, particularly when uttered during quiz time.
  • I can now, with utmost confidence, explain to a client why her plants have died when her soil still feels moist ("Why, it's very simple, madam. The soil water potential in your garden has obviously reached -1500kPa or greater, thus rendering the matric potential far too low for the roots to take in the necessary soil solution due to the disruption in capillary action; therefore, the unfortunate biomass we see here is incapable of maintaining turgidity").
  • When snow thaws and the water percolates (a Soil Science vocabulary word) down into the soil surface, the previously solid matter becomes saturated (another vocab word) and miraculously transforms into mud.
  • Mud is inherently attracted by molecular force - and over solid paving, I might add - to new shoes.

While the chemistry is beyond me, I am forced to admit that soil is pretty awesome stuff. Without it we would have nothing in which to grow our gardens, nothing on which to build our roads and cities, nothing to filter all the nastiness out of our water, and nothing to insulate us from the liquid hot magma beneath our feet.

And you thought soil was just dirt!

But that brings me back to my original question regarding my blog title. It would be the same if I had called it 'Got Plants'? As a Horticulturist I would not only want to know what kinds of plants, I would be very keen to learn the genus and species, cultivars, common names, flower color, foliage characteristics, native habitats, etc. Soil, it seems, is no different and begs to be identified by its proper name. If I am to consider myself a serious student of Horticulture and, by association, soil, then what my blog really should be asking is this: "Got Brandywine Sandy-Skeletal, Mixed, Mesic Typic Dystrudepts?"

Unfortunately, scientific nomenclature is rarely catchy.