The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

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:

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.