Cochise College                         Student Papers in Geology

Geology Home Page                          physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems           

Roger Weller, geology instructor

plant life
by Chelsea Belehar-Heiser
Physical Geology
Fall 2017

                                                    Volcanic Plant Life 

            Learning about volcanos is a fascinating subject but what I found to be even more fascinating is the plant life that grows on them.  There are many varieties of plant life that can thrive in volcanic areas.  These plants are given specific minerals is the soil profile that help them grow in this beautiful and violent landscape.  There are some that live in forests around the volcano. Then there are some that live on the cooled lava flows.







            Newly fallen ash from surficial horizons of the unconsolidated cover with most of the plant root system.  These are significantly enriched in the mobile forms of most trace elements relative to all the studied horizons of the soil pyroclastic cover. Pyroclastic material constantly supplied to the ground surface decelerates the transformation of organic matter.  Due to the hydrogenetic geochemical processes in the soil- pyroclastic cover the mobile forms of most trace elements are removed from newly fallen volcanic ashes into adjacent media, including plant biomass.  It is with this cover that begins to create the specific agents that allow for the volcanic soil to become so mineralized.

             As there are volcanic soils found all over the world their soil profile can hold similarities.  As I. I. Sudnitsyn expressed in “Soils of the Land of Volcanoes”:

            “One of the most important diagnostic features of volcanic soils is the presence of brought features of volcanic soils is the presence of brightly colored (yellow, orange, red-yellow, etc.).. layers in the soil profile... these layer are often referred to as ocherous soils.  These layers are probably formed in the  course of the soil weathering of hydrothermal processes of the moment of the volcanic eruption or even earlier.”

            Such as when the magma comes in contact with country rock. It is in this fertile soil is where the vital nutrient-rich minerals come from. The fertility of the soil is a direct influence to the growth of the plant life.  This process is farther explained in the study of Soil Changes in Model Tropical Ecosystems: Effects of Stand Longevity Outweigh Plant Diversity and Tree Species Identity in a Fertile Volcanic Soil." by Ewel, John J., María J. Mazzarino, and Gerardo Celis (2014).

            The most soil fertility properties decline in the early stages of plant growth, then established or increased.  However the greatest decline is occurring in the stands of shortest life span, where organic matter inputs were low and leaching rates were high.  In these tropical soils there is a time of vulnerability to degradtion where rainfall typically exceeds evapora-transpiration. This effect is countered through uptake and recycling of nutrients.

            Although understanding these changes in soils,  soil-plant interactions as plants grow, exploiting larger volumes of soil, and their own dominance over an area are still events that are not well known and require farther studies. In these studies we will indubitably find the vital key in understanding these soils become the most productive, intensively used, and  sustainable agricultural soils in the world.”  Though it is important to understand how the soils are effected from the violent volcanic events. The plants reactions to lava and ash are quit surprising.

             Did you know that volcanic ash falls provide a geochemically favorable substrate that is both nutrient-rich and has high water retention thus making them the best hosts to land plants?  The geochemical circumstances in volcanic ashes and associated basaltic lavas, are relatively rich in nutrients including iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulphur, nitrogen and phosphorus. This combination makes ash a favorable setting for seeding plants and spores that can be embedded in the ash.

            As a result of hypergenic geochemical processes in the soil–pyroclastic cover, movable forms of most trace elements are leached from freshly deposited ashes and transferred in dissolved form to contiguous media, including live phytomass. This secondary dispersion is most intense in cases of Cr, Cu, Ni, and Co. Conversely, V, Sr, Mn, Sc, and, to a lesser extent, Mo behave as inert elements under landscape conditions of the Novogodnii Peninsula.  Moreover, their contents may even increase slightly due to input with runoff from adjoining hill slopes.

            In a quick summary of this process the volcanic ash particles during eruption effectively adsorb trace elements from the gaseous phase. When the ash settles, movable forms of these elements rapidly dissolve and enter surface and ground waters, which accounts for a rich mineral composition of vegetation in the study region.

            Thus despite the hostile and ever changing environment these plants life on, it is that same environment that cultivates the resources for them to thrive. It is a intriguing notion that such terrifying this such as volcanos are the foundation for an abundance of plant life.



Ewel, John J., María J. Mazzarino, and Gerardo Celis. "Soil Changes in Model Tropical Ecosystems: Effects of Stand Longevity Outweigh Plant Diversity and Tree Species Identity in a Fertile Volcanic Soil." Ecosystems, vol. 17, no. 5, 2014, pp. 820-836, ProQuest Central,, doi:

Litvinenko, Yu S., and L. V. Zakharikhina. "Geochemical Features of Soil and Plant Cover in the Zone of Recent Explosive Volcanism." Russian Journal of Ecology, vol. 41, no. 2, 2010, pp. 115-122, ProQuest Central,, doi:

Parnell, John, and Sorcha Foster. "Ordovician Ash Geochemistry and the Establishment of Land Plants." Geochemical Transactions, vol. 13, 2012, ProQuest Central,, doi:

Sudnitsyn, I. I. "Soils of the Land of Volcanoes." Eurasian Soil Science, vol. 44, no. 6, 2011, pp. 698-699, ProQuest Central,, doi:

Zakharikhina, L. V., and Yu S. Litvinenko. "The Role of Volcanic Ash in Formation of Soil and Vegetative Cover in the Present-Day Explosive Volcanism Area." Volcanology and Seismology, vol. 2, no. 1, 2008, pp. 16-29, ProQuest Central,, doi:


Gon, Sam 'ohu. “Islands of life.” Hana hou! the magazine of hawaiian airlines , 2017, pp. 78–87. 


Picture Recources

Plants of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, 5 Aug. 2003,


RogerWeller Cochise Website

“Geology Home Page-a geological library Cochise College Roger Weller, geology instructorRoger Weller's Physics Resources copyright 2017-R.Weller Short cuts to photographic collections: Minerals Bisbee Minerals Fluorescent Minerals Opals Rocks Fossils Gemstones Meteorites Crystallography Subject Index for Geology Home Page New Plate Boundaries Using Google Earth New The Search for Meteorite Impacts-Canada New Geology Exploration Using Google Earth New Andes Mountains: Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Mines New Physical Geology*** Physical Geology Illustrated Vocabulary Mineral Identification Lecture** Student Presentations (331) Best Geology Videos on You Tube (489) Musical tour of the Universe (Favorite intro fun spot) Opal's Pals- geology cartoons (141) Minerals contents: (3500 views) Photos of minerals**, Bisbee minerals fluorescent minerals, minerals by chemical groups, mineral identification lecture, mineral videos, chemical weathering of minerals lecture, Herkimer Diamonds  Crystals contents: (825 views) photos of crystals and crystal models, how to grow crystals, drawings of twinned crystals,textbook on crystallography Rocks contents: 1276 views, illustrated rock vocabularies, articles on rocks, videos of rocks Volcanoes and Igneous Rocks  contents: 527 views, illustrated volcano vocabulary, articles on volcanoes, videos on volcanoes, photos of igneous rocks, illustrated igneous rock vocabulary, articles on igneous rocks, igneous rock videos.” Cochise College,