The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening Science - Soils, Manure and the Environment
Chapter: Chapter 1: Earths and Soils

Davy on rocks and soils

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1142. The manner in which rocks are converted into soils, Sir H. Davy observes (Elem. of Agric. Chem. 188.), may be easily conceived by referring to the instance of soft granite, or porcelain granite. This substance consists of three ingredients - quartz, feldspar, and mica. The quartz is almost pure siliceous earth in a crystalline form. The feldspar and mica are very compound substances; both contain silica, alumina, and oxide of iron ; in the feldspar there is usually lime and potassa; in the mica, lime and magnesia. When a granite rock of this kind has been long exposed to the influence of air and water, the lime and the potassa contained in its constituent parts are acted upon by water or carbonic acid ; and the oxide of iron, which is almost always in its least oxidised state, tends to combine with more oxygen; the consequence is, that the feldspar decomposes, and likewise the mica; but the first the most rapidly. The feldspar, which is as it were the cement of the stone, forms a fine clay : the mica, partially decomposed, mixes with it as sand; and the undecomposed quartz appears as gravel, or sand of different degrees of fineness. As soon as the smallest layer of earth is formed on the surface of a rock, the seeds of lichens, mosses, and other imperfect vegetables which are constantly floating in the atmosphere, and which have made it their resting-place, begin to vegetate; their death, decomposition, and decay, afford a certain quantity of organisable matter, which mixes with the earthy materials of the rock; in this improved soil more perfect plants are capable of subsisting; these in their turn absorb nourishment from water and the atmosphere; and, after perishing, afford new materials to those already provided : the decomposition of the rock still continues; and at length, by such slow and gradual processes, a soil is formed in which even forest trees can fix their roots, and which is fitted to reward the labours of the cultivator.