Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Morning: Serpentine Soil

serpentine soil edgewood
Serpentine Outcroppings surrounded by wildflowers in Edgewood Park & Preserve.

If you were to imagine what most of the state looked like before roads, before we paved over wetlands, before golf courses, and before invasive species you'd be imagining what lands with serpentine soils look like today.

Serpentine Rock is a slick green rock that feels waxy to the touch. It has much in common with heavy metals and its presence can often be toxic to plants (though not to humans however I don't suggest eating it)

Serpentine "Soils" contain heavy metals including serpentine which adjust the soil chemistry so that where ordinarily a forest would grow are barren with only a handful of well adapted plants growing. Only native plants are well adapted enough to survive in such harsh terrain. These hardy plants can therefor thrive despite the toxic soil.

Included in this group of hard plents are many native wildflowers which can grow in large concentrations and put on staggering displays painting an entire hillside purple, gold, or orange.

Serpentine Rock from Almaden Quicksilver County Park.

The lack of invasive species is common wherever serpentine soils are found giving these areas an untouched and pristine character. Serpentine Soils are found commonly in Oregon, California, and Pennsylvania. In every case these soils are home to specialized and unique species and saving these lands is often a top priority for conservation organizations.


  1. Great serpentine site for the Klamath Mountains:

    Also, the largest serpentine outcrops in North America are in the Klamath Mountains - including many endemic plants.

  2. Thanks for pointing that out. It's good to find someone as serious about serpentine soil as I am!