The plot so far..
My 'theory' is that soil – as a living entity, evolved between 350-400 million years ago The period is Late Devonian, that leads to Carboniferous. This hypothesis Is based on the soil mesofauna – the springtails, mites (Oribatid and Mesostigmata) and nematodes that are found in all soils. They are all ‘primitive’ – evolutionarily speaking. The first springtail found is about 400 mya. They pre-date insects, which started (like dragonflies) in about 350mya

I also predicted that these small soil creatures co-evolved with tree evolution, all part of a colonisation of land. But what did that land consist of? The trees need a solid root structure to bring water from the soil to the uppermost part of the plant. Soil animals look after the roots, along with fungi and are paid in terms of food , while other small soil creatures deal with the dead matter plants produce along with dead fungal matter.

Then somebody (thanks Matt) asked me whether volcanic dust had anything to do with it, as volcanic dust seemed to be around at the same time as the soil animals started to evolve. Volcanic Dust is widely known as being very good for plants. People talk about the best oranges and lemons on the slopes of volcanoesVolcanic dust is sold as a fertiliser - with almost magical sounding qualities, yet sound science behind it. 

And are the soil animals connected with the volcanic dust? Here is the story that unfurled..
 1. Volcanic Dust Constituency

SiO2 Silicon oxide 50.68%
Al2O3 Aluminium oxide 14.02%
Fe2O3 Iron oxide 12.99%
MgO Magnesium oxide 6.72%
CaO Calcium oxide 7.69%
Na2O Sodium oxide 3.21%
K2O Potassium oxide 1.16%
TiO2 Titanium oxide 2.20%
P2O5 Phosphorus pentoxide 0.28%
MnO Manganese oxide 0.18%

Elements ppm (mg/kg)
Ag Silver <0.2 
Al Aluminium 24,627 
As Arsenic <0.90 
B Boron 66.45
Ba Barium 83.10
Be Berylium <0.10
Ca Calcium 16,990
Cd Cadmium <1.01
Cl Chloride 3.61
Co Cobalt 41.75
Cr Chromium 25.30
Cu Copper 70.05
Fe Iron 60,035
Fl Flouride 0.23
Hg Mercury <0.20
I Iodine <1.40
In Indium <2.21
K Potassium 821
Li Lithium 288
Mg Magnesium 20,165
Mn Manganese 704
Mo Molybdenum <0.2
Na Sodium 2,678
Ni Nickel 44
P Phosphorus 1,167
Pb Lead <0.70
S Sulphur 629
Sb Antimony <1.00
Se Selenium <0.80
Si Silicon 2,040
Sn Tin <0.3
Sr Strontium 125.50
Ti Titanium 5,651
V Vanadium 222
Zn Zinc 90
 2. Essential Mineral Elements for Plants

There are deemed to be 16 essential elements for plant growth. They are According to Dept Soil Science Wisconsin

Primary Essential Elements (that make for Fertiliser NPK)

Nitrogen (plants get that from ammonia & bacteria)..
Phosphorus (.3% of volcanic dust)
Potassium, (1.5% of volcanic dust - VD)

Secondary Elements (Again the Dept’s order)

Calcium (7.7% of volcanic dust) (Chloride 3.5 mg in VD)
Magnesium, (6.7% of VD)
Sulphur (from gas/bacteria. What gas do volcanoes emit?
Answer Sulphur. This gas from the volcanic atmosphere is adsorbed onto volcanic ash
Boron (66 kg/kg in volcanic dust),
Chlorine (gas adsorbed from volcanic atmosphere by dust )
Iron, (13% of VD)
Manganese (.2% VD)
Zinc (90 mg/kg in VD)
Copper (70mg/kg)
Molybdenum (<0.2 mg/kg VD)
Nickel (44 mg/kg VD)
All the essential mineral elements on that list are in volcanic dust. Chlorine and sulphur gas would be adsorbed on to the dust. So the Volcanic dust provides all the essential elements for plants (other nitrogen which would be in the atmosphere/water). It is hard to see how plants could have evolved anywhere (ie sedimentary or igneous rocks) else as there would not be that distribution of elements in say sand or sandstone.

If plants started to evolve in the stuff, then the little soil animals will come in (springtails come from the sea - you can see them on tidal ponds, and oribatid mouthparts exhibit marine beginnings) and recycle those essential minerals when the plant died. Instead of these essential elements running off in water/air to the oceans (see later) the little creatures would recycle them, enabling more plants to grow – 

"Common sense" goes a long way in defining the concept of an essential element. However, a more precise set of criteria were established by Arnon and Stout in 1939, who stated that an essential element:

1. Must required for the completion of the life cycle of the plant.

2. Must not be replaceable by another element.

3. Must be directly involved in plant metabolism, that is, it must be required for a specific physiological function.

To Arnon and Stout's elEments should be added a fourth:

4. The element must required by a substantial number of plants 

No wonder Volcanic Ash works so well as a fertiliser It supplies all those element that comply with the above. It has all the essential elements. making it essential not just for growth today, but evolution of yesteryear. A plant cannot do without any one of those essential elements..

In addition to the essential mineral elements are the beneficial elements, elements which promote plant growth in many plant species but are not absolutely necessary for completion of the plant life cycle, or fail to meet Arnon and Stout's criteria on other grounds. 

RECOGNISED BENEFICIAL ELEMENTS ARE: Silicon (2000 mg/kg VD) in VD), sodium (2,500 mg/kg in VD), cobalt (40mg/kg in VD), and selenium (<1 mg/kg) VD)

Other elements that have been proposed as candidates for essential or beneficial elements include chromium, vanadium, and titanium, although strong evidence is lacking at this time (according to Wisconsin Dept)

Elements taken up as gas or water
Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon

Sixteen plant food nutrients (13 below + hydrogen, carbon and oygen) are essential for proper crop development. All the solid ones are found in volcanic dust. Each is equally important to the plant, yet each is required in vastly different amounts. These differences have led to the grouping of these essential elements into three categories; primary (macro) nutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients. 

What is remarkably clear is that to get plants going, it is hard to see where else they could have evolved to get these minerals. They serve a variety of functions, essential for the process of living on drier land and becoming ‘vascular’. This is the stage where plants develop from structures with similar cells throughout to more differentiated structures (leaves, stems roots and ultimately flowers, that enable plants to carry out many more functions

3. Why these elements are essential

According to El Dorado Chemical Company these elements are essential for plants because..

Primary (macro) nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are the most frequently required in a crop fertilization program. Also, they are need in the greatest total quantity by plants as fertilizer.

Necessary for formation of amino acids, the building blocks of protein 
Essential for plant cell division, vital for plant growth 
Directly involved in photosynthesis 
Necessary component of vitamins 
Aids in production and use of carbohydrates 
Affects energy reactions in the plant

Involved in photosynthesis, respiration, energy storage and transfer, cell division, and enlargement 
Promotes early root formation and growth 
Improves quality of fruits, vegetables, and grains 
Vital to seed formation 
Helps plants survive harsh winter conditions 
Increases water-use efficiency 
Hastens maturity

Carbohydrate metabolism and the break down and translocation of starches 
Increases photosynthesis 
Increases water-use efficiency 
Essential to protein synthesis 
Important in fruit formation 
Activates enzymes and controls their reaction rates 
Improves quality of seeds and fruit 
Improves winter hardiness 
Increases disease resistance

Why these elements are essential for plant growthThe Secondary nutrients include calcium, magnesium, and sulphur. For most crops, these three are needed in lesser amounts than the primary nutrients. They are growing in importance in crop fertilization programs due to more stringent clean air standards and efforts to improve the environment.

Utilized for Continuous cell division and formation 
Involved in nitrogen metabolism 
Reduces plant respiration 
Aids translocation of photosynthesis from leaves to fruiting organs 
Increases fruit set 
Essential for nut development in peanuts 
Stimulates microbial activity

Key element of chlorophyll production 
Improves utilization and mobility of phosphorus 
Activator and component of many plant enzymes 
Directly related to grass tetany 
Increases iron utilization in plants
Influences earliness and uniformity of maturity

Integral part of amino acids 
Helps develop enzymes and vitamins 
Promotes nodule formation on legumes 
Aids in seed production 
Necessary in chlorophyll formation (though it isn’t one of the constituents)


The micronutrients are boron, chlorine, cooper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. These plant food elements are used in very small amounts, but they are just as important to plant development and profitable crop production as the major nutrients. Especially, they work "behind the scene" as activators of many plant functions.

Essential of germination of pollen grains and growth of pollen tubes 
Essential for seed and cell wall formation 
Promotes maturity 
Necessary for sugar translocation 
Affects nitrogen and carbohydrate

Not much information about its functions 
Interferes with P uptake 
Enhances maturity of small grains on some soils

Catalyses several plant processes 
Major function in photosynthesis 
Major function in reproductive stages 
Indirect role in chlorophyll production 

Required to form the enzyme "nitrate reductas" which reduces nitrates to ammonium in plant 
Aids in the formation of legume nodules 
Needed to convert inorganic phosphates to organic forms in the plant

Promotes formation of chlorophyll 
Acts as an oxygen carrier 
Reactions involving cell division and growth

Functions as a part of certain enzyme systems 
Aids in chlorophyll synthesis 
Increases the availability of P and CA
Aids plant growth hormones and enzyme system
Necessary for chlorophyll production
Necessary for carbohydrate formation
Necessary for starch formation Aids in seed formation

It is just about impossible to see how plants evolved elsewhere than volcanic dust. Nowhere else could provide this wide range of minerals, all essential to making the plant functions.

Nor is it that they are just 'essential' now.

They were also 'Essential' in getting from ferns to trees.
So I did a little test. It couldn't be described as scientific, but it was all I had to work with. Two very similar pots of plants that included a conifer and ivy. They looked remarkably similar. I treated them just about the same and their position was the also very similar. Nothing is identical in nature, but this was as close as it gets. The bowl treated with volcano dust grew better. But it was as it went into the autumn the big difference emerged. The red ivy version had not been treated whereas the green iveyed version had been treated with the volcanic dust. And that raises all sorts of questions (remembering it isn't v scientific, need lots more tests, like ...sings, need to be done). But if true, what would be the evolutionary advantage of maintaining chlorophyll production after the other plants had lost their chlorophyll?

4. Elements in the Periodic Table

Now have a look at where those essential elements are in the Periodic Table.

Out of all of the many natural elements, essential mineral elements, essential non-mineral elements, and beneficial elements are not randomly scattered! Instead they cluster in several groups on the periodic chart (see below..).

And would these elements in the Periodic Table co-incide with the stuff of volcanoes? I found out the answer, when visiting Jodrell Bank, that the volcano does not itself make the elements in the ash (I thought it did), because it hasnt got that sort of power. That comes from a much greater force - a star. So that is where that  bunch of volcani elements comes from - the molten core of the earth.  It seems to me (But would like somebody to explain) that it is not surprising that the elements are chemically related. And that bought life on to dry land. See Higher Plants

 It is hard to imagine what the chances are of all these elements coming together by some random process at the same time – give or take a few million years. It is not just a matter of them all being essential, but they all have to be there together for all the plant parts to work together. You can’t have a stem without roots, Apparently the volcanoes cant create (this particularly pattern of elements in relation to each other in the Periodic Table. elements - that needs star size power. So the stuff that comes out of volcanoes is coming from the centre of the earth. That molten lava is predominantly iron. So that fits..

See how the volcanic dust helped both the evolution of soil and the evolution of higher plants.. Next Page