Cryptobiotic soil is kind of like nature's first compost. It's an extreme compost, concocted in an extreme habitat.
These Biological Soil Crusts form in harsh sterile areas where there is absolutely no organic material. For regular plants these environments are difficult to impossible habitats to live in.
The biological soil crusts are most commonly found in arid and semi arid areas such as the American Southwest. Here the crusts can cover up to 80% of the land.
I've also found them in the high alpine areas of the Rockies and the Hoodoo area of Milk River, here in Alberta, and in the arctic area near Churchill, Manitoba.
Cryptobiotic soil uses cyanobacteria to conjure their initial flush of life. These bacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are the main component of the biological soil crust. These remarkable bacteria are a big part of what makes life possible on our planet.
The biological soil crusts form in sterile environments becoming a community of living organisms and their byproducts. Slowly, the combination of cyanobacteria, lichens, green and brown algae, other bacteria, microfungi, and mosses, add nitrogen, stop erosion and store water so that other plants can join them in creating an oasis of sorts in the once lifeless land.
Cryptobiotic Soil benefits soil and plants in many ways.
If crusts are damaged by walking or driving on them it can take many years for them to recover. The cyanobacteria or blue-green algae recovers first - in five years or so.
The other elements of the crust, the lichens and mosses especially, can take from 50 - 250 years to fully recover.
I get excited when I see soil crusts. They are essentially conjured from the air by nature to make life possible for plants, and through plants, animals.
When you see the list of benefits these young organic soils provide it reads much like the benefits of compost. Both cryptobiotic soils and compost are essential links in the circle of life. Return from Cryptobiotic Soil to The Compost Gardener home