Serpentine soils derived from the weathering of ultramafic rocks and their metamorphic derivatives (serpentinites) are chemically prohibitive for vegetative growth. Evaluating how serpentine vegetation is able to persist under these chemical conditions is difficult to ascertain due to the numerous factors (climate, relief, time, water availability, etc.) controlling and affecting plant growth. Here, the uptake, incorporation, and distribution of a wide variety of elements into the biomass of serpentine vegetation has been investigated relative to vegetation growing on an adjacent chert-derived soil. Soil pH, electrical conductivity, organic C, total N, soil extractable elements, total soil elemental compositions and plant digestions in conjunction with spider diagrams are utilized to determine the chemical relationships of these soil and plant systems. Plant available Mg and Ca in serpentine soils exceed values assessed in chert soils. Magnesium is nearly 3 times more abundant than Ca in the serpentine soils; however, the serpentine soils are not Ca deficient with Ca concentrations as high as 2235 mg kg-1. Calcium to Mg ratios (Ca:Mg) in both serpentine and chert vegetation are greater than one in both below and above ground tissues. Soil and plant chemistry analyses support that Ca is not a limiting factor for plant growth and that serpentine vegetation is actively moderating Mg uptake as well as tolerating elevated concentrations of bioavailable Mg. Additionally, results demonstrate that serpentine vegetation suppresses the uptake of Fe, Cr, Ni, Mn and Co into its biomass. The suppressed uptake of these metals mainly occurs in the plants' roots as evident by the comparatively lower metal concentrations present in above ground tissues (twigs, leaves and shoots). This research supports earlier studies that have suggested that ion uptake discrimination and ion suppression in the roots are major mechanisms for serpentine vegetation to tolerate the chemistry of serpentine soils. ?? 2008 Elsevier Ltd.
Additional publication details
Growing up green on serpentine soils: Biogeochemistry of serpentine vegetation in the Central Coast Range of California