Hyphen n° 66 - bio indicators

Het internationaal verbond voor volkstuinen draait al meer dan 90 jaar mee en Tuinhier is één van de stichtende leden. Samen met de andere leden creeëren we jaarlijks 3 inspiratiemagazines. Hyphen n° 66 kun je hier volledig lezen. Hyphen 66

Hier alvast een greep uit het magazine door onze Franse collega's

France: Bio-indicator plants (weeds or useful herbs?)

 Some plants are considered bad, as is the case of weeds.

Why? Because the gardener did not plant them. Yet they do not grow there by chance and can be useful for many reasons. Useful because they can be harvested and prepared for different uses (cooking, medicine, processing, etc.), but also because they give indications about the ground where we intend to cultivate our vegetable garden. To germinate, the seeds must have very specific conditions that differ from one plant to another, including climate, temperature, soil type, mineral elements, planting method, etc. Bio-indicator plants are therefore wild plants that grow spontaneously in a place where all the conditions are right for their growth. Therefore, if one knows what their “favourite” ground type is, it is possible to know the different types of soil. It must also be borne in mind that soil is a living thing and that plants make it possible to better understand it.

 It is possible to classify them as plants indicating different conditions:

•       an excess (organic matter – manure for example),

•       a deficiency (in nitrogen – N – in potash – K),

•       the quality of soil life (presence of earthworms, micro-organisms, etc.).

Some principles to remember:

•       There must be a sufficient number of plants (5 to 10 rooted plants per square meter), and dominant compared to other species present, if it is to be an indicator.

•       As seed distribution is generalised, it does not mean that when plants go to seed over a widespread area that a strong population can be expected next year. A seed sprouts only if we create the right conditions for it.

•       For each plant, the natural environments in which they developed without human intervention were sought out. The table below gives you some elements for determining the type of soil based on the natural plants that grow there. This is why it is so useful to be able to recognise wild plants. Other documents (books or internet) can help you to determine what the soil is like in your garden.

Use of manure

•       Horse manure is rich in carbon (C)

•       Cow manure, balanced out with straw

•       Sheep manure is rich in nitrogen (N) and potassium (K), to be balanced with horse manure

•       Chicken manure is rich in Phosphorus (P), to be balanced with other manures.

Plants Indications

Buttercup (gold button)

Moderately moist

Ranunculus or creeping cinquefoil

Saturated in water (e. g. clay), compacted, trampled, etc

Rumex obtusifolius Asphyxiates

causing blockages, (in phosphorus for example)

Rumex violoncello

Compacting (mechanical or natural)

Rumex acetosella (sheep sorrel)

Destructuring of soil

Rumex acetosa(common sorrel or garden sorrel)

Balanced conditions



Good amount of organic matter, Good microbial life, Presence of nitrogen (N), Well balanced conditions


Excess application of animal organic matter, not or poorly composted, Soil worked in overly dry weather, Water contrast on nitrate soils, Excess nitrogen (N)

Red-root amaranth (potentially toxic)

Too much fertiliser or organic matter, Excess of N and K

Gillyflower (e.g. Shepherd’s purse)

Indicating that the soil contains bases (which may generate blockages), Useful in green fertilisers in soils with high pH (limes), do not use in soils where the pH is


Organic matter bottleneck

Yarrow (pollinator)

Leaching of organic matter, Dry earth, clay and limestone

Rye grass

Anaerobic, Wet ground


Anaerobic, pH blocking


Excess nitrogen (N), Heavy soil and clay


Decalcification, Acidic soil

Wheat grass

Soils that are worn out and unstructured, Digging too deep (impermeable layer)


Jean-Claude Férail

Hyphen n° 66 - bio indicators
Hyphen n° 66 - bio indicators
Hyphen n° 66 - bio indicators
Hyphen n° 66 - bio indicators

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