Serpentine grasslands

October 28, 2008

This iguana is made of the mineral Serpentine

This iguana is made of the mineral Serpentine, although Lizardite would be more appropriate.

This is the first in a series on interesting things I learned this weekend.

Serpentine is a mineral that comes from deep within the earth, around the mantle layer. At fault lines, it can come to the surface. California has many such fault lines, and in fact Serpentinite is California’s state rock.

Where this mineral comes to the surface, like at Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, you’ll find toxic serpentine soil. It’s full of metals like nickel, cobalt, and magnesium; and it doesn’t have enough of basic nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, or phosphorus for most plants to live.

And yet there are plants that live in it, like tarweed, which our gude said she knows as “the smell of California in the summer”. They grow well enough in normal soil, but these species have the toxic serpentine all to themselves.

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