Photo: Land Trust.

Digging Into Our Top Five Soil Facts

Feb 08, 2024 by Jana Hemphill
Dig into our favorite soil facts, then learn even more at our February 21st Nature Night on The Real Dirt on Soil!

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It’s something most of us take for granted. You might have memories of playing in it, perhaps even making pies(!) with it. It’s almost always close by. What could we be talking about? Dirt!

In preparation for our February Nature Night on The Real Dirt on Soil! with James Cassidy, we’re sharing our top five favorite soil facts with you! Yes, that’s right, we have favorite soil facts. Let’s take a look!

Oregon’s state soil is jory. Before a recent trivia night, I had no idea that states had designated state soils. Oregon’s state soil is jory, which exists in the foothills around the Willamette Valley. Jory soils support Douglas fir and Oregon white oak forests, but were also cleared and are being used as productive agricultural land. The soil profile of jory consists of a surface layer of organic material and a subsurface layer of dark reddish brown silty clay loam.

One of the coolest soils: cryptobiotic soils. Also known as biological soil crusts, cryptobiotic soils are tiny living organisms that compose soil crusts. Crypto means hidden and biota means life, making this a very apt name for these soil crusts. Algae, cyanobacteria (previously known as blue-green algae), and fungi are some of the organisms that make up these crusts. Cryptobiotic soil crusts protect soil from erosion, absorb moisture, and provide nitrogen and nutrients for plants. It is found in arid and semi-arid regions around the world, including in Central Oregon! You can find it in undisturbed areas of our sagebrush steppe where there are no shrubs, grasses, or flowers (including between shrubs). Search around sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bunchgrasses for patches of ground with a black, gray, yellow, green, or orange tint.

Central Oregon’s soil: it’s not great? Most gardeners in Central Oregon already know this: we do not have great soil for growing things! Our soils tend to be coarse with a sandy texture. It doesn’t hold water well. There aren’t many microorganisms, which are a sign of healthy soil. That doesn’t mean Central Oregon soil doesn’t grow anything! Plants adapted not only to the soil in Central Oregon, but also our climate. Native vegetation like rabbitbrush, sagebrush, phlox, balsamroot, and others grow well in our coarse, sandy soils.

Building healthy soil = a climate mitigation strategy? Did you know that healthy soil captures and stores carbon? A wealth of recent research is looking into the potential of soil to help sequester carbon as our planet warms. The potential of soil sequestration is impacted by things such as precipitation, soil temperature, and erosion, making it difficult to gauge exactly how much carbon a specific area of land could capture. However, it’s estimated that soil holds about 80% of the carbon that’s stored in terrestrial environments (as opposed to ocean or atmospheric environments). Plants and forests are also doing a good job, but soil is getting an A+ with their carbon sequestration!

Wait, how many soils?!? According to the National Cooperative Soil Survey, there are more than 20,000 different types of soil in the US. More than 20,000! While this is an astounding number, there are a lot of factors that go into the formation of soil. Things like the underlying rocks, climate, topography, plants, wildlife, microorganisms, and the interaction of all these elements have an impact on what the soil is like in a given area.

You can learn more about the importance of soil in our lives at our February 21st Nature Night at the Tower Theatre in Bend and via livestream: The Real Dirt on Soil! with James Cassidy. Register today!




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