Volcanoes and Plant Life

Volcanic eruptions are storms of deadly gas, ash, lava flow, and heat. When a volcano erupts all plant life in its path is burned, buried, and destroyed. Thus, it is easy to suppose that volcanoes and plant life don’t mix, right?

An image of a volcano erupting; extrusive volcanism.

Volcano erupting

This assumption could not be further from the truth. It is true that the immediate effect of volcanoes on plant life is death. But the long-term effect is very positive. Have you ever wondered why people live close to volcanoes? The main reason is the rich volcanic soil. People are willing to take high-risk gambles to fulfill their most basic needs. Especially when that need is food.

Minerals and Nutrients 

Magma from the Earth’s core contains a rich source of nutrients and minerals that plants need to grow. If there’s an ancient volcano buried beneath the soil, you’re in luck! Volcanic soil releases nutrients and minerals gradually over time that plants can absorb. This could mean that less fertilizer is required over time which could save costs for the grower.

Each time a volcano erupts, it brings these nutrients with it and spreads them everywhere. When volcanoes explode they spread ash around a large area. This ash acts as a fertilizer, enriching the soil. It is no surprise that the soil near volcanoes is among the richest and most fertile on Earth. 

An image of a composite cone volcano.

A volcano surrounded by plants flourishing.

Fertile Soil

One example of the effect of volcanoes on agricultural lands is in Italy. Farming in southern Italy is very difficult. This is because of the limestone formations in the basement rock and the poor quality of the soil. Except for the volcanic region around Naples. This region includes Mount Vesuvius.
This soil is very rich because of the two large-scale eruptions that took place some 35,000 and 12,000 years ago. It left a rich blanket, an extremely thick deposit of tephra. Tephra is the rocks and substances deposited by a volcanic eruption. The tephra has since weathered into a rich soil. This land is planted with grapevines, vegetables, and flowers.

For instance, even the smallest vineyard will have trellis rows that grow grapes and spring beans. But it will also have fava beans, cauliflower, and onions between the trellis rows. The margins of the vineyards are planted with orange and lemon trees, herbs, and flowers.

An image of an Italian wine vineyard, covered in plants.

This is the landscape of an Italian wine vineyard.

Other Great Resources:

Sciencing: Plants & Animals Around Volcanoes https://sciencing.com/plants-animals-around-volcanoes-8259688.html

Oregon State Volcano World: How do Volcanoes Affect Plants and Animals?  http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/how-do-volcanoes-affect-plants-and-animals

 Written by: Monica Siegenthaler