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Fertility of understory plants

Hepatica flowersSo far, I've been talking mostly about tree leaves, but what about smaller plants?  Jacke writes that understory plants make up only about 11% of a forest's biomass, but they contain 37% of the forest's nitrogen, 29% of its its phosphorus, 33% of its magnesium, and 32% of its potassium.  Clearly, non-woody plants would be my best choice for fertilizer.  I'm already using green comfrey and grass leaves as mulch, but I suspect I should expand this program.

I was intrigued to read that the understory of a forest can also help prevent nutrients from washing out of the soil during the winter.  As fallen tree leaves decay, they release soluble nutrients that can quickly leach away during winter rains.  Early spring ephemerals like bloodroot and hepatica are the only forest plants active at this time of year, so they are able to suck up the nutrients and use them to grow leaves and flowers.  When the trees leaf out a few weeks later, the early spring ephemerals die back and rot into the soil, releasing the same nutrients to be sucked up by hungry tree roots and complete the cycle.  I guess there's a reason other than beauty (and bees) to add early spring flowers to my forest garden!

This post is part of our Leaves for Fertility lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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