The Green Rock

Over dinner recently with Heronswood’s brilliant new plant collector, Simon Crawford, I learned that what we regard as soil resulted from plant life, not the other way around.

While not quite as simple as that, it’s true that plants created land, as in “land, ho!” or “this is good earth—our crops will grow here”, etc.  The brown and black stuff plants grow in?

In fact, most of the land that isn’t rock was formed by millions of years of plant life—especially their evolving root systems.

Over millennia, plants actually gathered soil beneath them—they created it.  Grew it.  Soil doesn’t grow plants; plants grow soil.  I mean, duh.

It was a bit weird to hear this over cocktails.  A spectacular, biblical type of insight—through the alcohol haze I discern . . . a green rock.

Grace Romero and Bill Rein, our “crackerjack” research team, in the immortal words of The New York Times’ Anne Raver, added more insights the following day.  Bill said that water used to flood characteristically across the land and only “braid” through early plants.  Then, some 400 million years ago, forests emerged—plants bound together in a common yet competitive struggle toward sunlight—and caused water to “meander” and thus become rivers.  Roots wove together as well as to substrate so firmly that they “dominated” the earth and, in effect, created soil to serve their existence.

The great mega tree of this period, a precursor to today’s giant flowering forest trees, is called “Archeopteris”.  It was non-flowering—a sort of giant proto pine with fern-like leaves and mega-spores.  It covered most of the planet’s land mass and provided it with its first large and effective shaded environment—a huge step in botanical history.

I was aware of the formation of oxygen—and our atmosphere—by plant life but, brother, I felt stupid when I learned this other, simple “rock to earth” sequence.  More correctly, the rock was covered by plants, and then by earth.

More or less.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 19th, 2009 at 8:22 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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29 Responses to “The Green Rock”

  1. Dan Langone said:

    Thanks for all the “dirt” on this subject. I enjoyed reading it. Makes me suspicious of a whole raft of preconceptions.

  2. George said:

    Dear Dan – It is my pleasure to drift occasionally, with down time on my hands. Thanks for the post.

  3. Jamie Shafer said:

    Not to be profound – this is really cool stuff! I plan to share this with friends. It’s mind opening.

  4. George said:

    Dear Jamie – Thanks very much.

  5. Mike Savich said:

    Regarding the recent email from Heronswood on the chicken-egg subject of soil generation and plant life…. I was galvanized to recall, oh, let us say–that about twenty years ago–an announcement was made that a team of scientists discovered that clay actually can reproduce itself under certain circumstances.

  6. George said:

    Dear Mike – Wow! I had no idea. Could you link up the source of this fascinating research and share it with us? I’m not shocked but very interested. “Clay” is a loose, or imprecise, term. But, my view is definitely that the rock preceded the plants. (Cosmologically, who knows?) It was the “soil” (another imprecise term) I was discussing.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  7. Patricia L said:

    Sounds like What came first, the chicken or
    the egg????

  8. George said:

    Dear Patricia L – I’m not a biologist but it would have to have been the chicken, right? More than likely the first complex little organisms reproduced asexually—by just dividing—and so a “chicken” sort of ancestor decided male and female was a good idea, to put it a bit crudely, and next came the “egg” state. But don’t take my word for it.

    As far as my “green rock”, the rock certainly came first, of course, with water breaking off, so to speak. The rest is primordial soup of which I’m also not an expert. I just like the stuff. Thanks for posting.

  9. Ron Minshew said:

    Awesome reviews. Love the creative pen.

  10. George said:

    Dear Ron – Thanks for your kind compliment.

  11. Genevieve said:

    What a PLEASURE to read- gardening lore in a voice that comes not from old school “garden culture,” but from a human “voice,” with all of its slang, vulgarity, vices and humor. Begone with stuffy garden prose! Thank you! I enjoy this column very much.

    At the NEXT cocktail hour, let’s talk about the bugs,the micro-thingamajiggies

  12. George said:

    Dear Genevieve – Thank you very much. Actually, I’m working on “eyes” at the moment, since that’s a concern of mine right now. But Frederick Dobbs has been kind enough to agree to do a microbe-related soil guest blog late next week. But don’t tell anyone! Thanks again for posting.

  13. TC said:

    Uhhh?? This doesn’t really explain how “soil resulted from plant life.” Can you give a little more in-depth explanation? Without being too scientific?

  14. George said:

    Dear TC – Thanks for your question. Soil resulted from the evolution of plant life—the action of many millions of years of their existence on the surface of what was rock, and also water that had gathered from the sky, having originated from the ocean, more or less. However, it is interesting to note the paradox that the reason the oceans are salty in the first place is due to their formation as gigantic run-off from rock, which is where salt originates. Then H2O, recycles, so to speak, back onto the rock (land) as “fresh” water in the form of precipitation from the ocean, as well as rain from land based seas, which themselves originated from rain. I hope that helps.

    Thanks again for posting. Hope all is well.

  15. Betty said:

    this is a eye opener. love reading your your web page thanks this made my day

  16. George said:

    Dear Betty – Thank you for the very nice compliment. You, in turn, made my day.

  17. Jean Whitt said:

    As in all ‘scientific theories’ man’s opinion of how it all happened continues. The plant life on earth and how it serves man is only one small part of the complexity of our earth. The order needed for all nature to serve us could not be mere chance, but had to have a designer. His name is God.

  18. George said:

    Dear Jean – Thanks very much for posting. I have theories about the origin of the entire universe, infinite in size as it is. Mine are not “scientific” either, so you and I may be much closer than you may think. But I appreciate your point of view.

    Thanks again.

  19. Kathy H said:

    I used to teach 3rd graders about the development of a forest – that it starts from bare rock, then moss or lichens come first – spores settling in rock dust. The mosses grow and eventually rot, making a bit of soil for “herb stage 1” plants – grasses and other small plants, which in turn die and make more soil for larger plants, then shrubs, then trees…it’s all very observable, too!

  20. George said:

    Dear Kathy H – Beautiful! Give that lady the kewpie doll! Thank you much for putting it better than I did—more succinct. Please post again anytime you would like to.

  21. Steve Fowler said:

    Well, if we started as a rock floating through space, circling our sun, all that volcanic activity would have at some point give us smoke, clouds, rain , erosion and lots of neat chemical reactions in both the skies/clouds and in the water. Seeing what a few blades of grass can do in my driveway or cracks in my sidewalks in the space of a few months, I have no doubt as to the power of a seed, it root and just a few leaves to change the world. It is probably the only thing that ever has. Keep up the great writing, George.


  22. George said:

    Dear Steve – You are what I would call “a brother from another mother”. Thanks for the very eloquent post. Please do so again.

  23. Debbie said:

    Someone failed to state that this is all one persons theory being stated as fact.
    Check out the real history in Genesis.

  24. George said:

    Dear Debbie – Thanks for posting. Far from me to state absolute facts. “Silva Rerum”, the subtitle of this blog, means “the forest of worldly things” and was a term used by Christian scholars of old to describe the “jungle” that God gave us to become lost in, to learn from, and from which to emerge, knowing its worldliness and “of” its worldliness. I don’t speak for God. I just wander in His darkness, same as everyone else. Also, you may note that the ancient Hebrew creation myth described in Genesis is remarkably consistent with the green rock. Also, the ancient Vedic hymns have images and movements of creation strikingly similar to earth science. I didn’t want to “go there”, as the kids say.

    I was, after all, drinking.

    Thanks again.

  25. Mary said:

    and how do you know these things?

  26. George said:

    Dear Mary – Please meet Debbie; Debbie, Mary.

    Thanks for posting.

  27. Jim said:

    For a fascinating account of how earthworms contribute to the formation of our soil, read Darwin’s “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.”

  28. Deafpetr said:

    So stop driving your car.. And reduce your consumption … Otherwise it is just hat talk.

  29. Mary said:

    did not know you were into wandering…you might want to wander in His light, not His darkness, as darkness is evil…knowledge is light.
    darkness brings evil right to you, in your face and into your world you create for yourself…I am sure you know that in your heart. You are a very smart man. Yes, if you want to know the truth of all things, wander in our Creator’s light. Try it; you will like it.
    with care,
    ps what were you drinking?

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