What is Cryptobiotic Soil?

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In Brief: What is Cryptobiotic Soil?

Cryptobiotic soil is found all around the world. Using it has numerous benefits for the environment. You can also use it in your garden (if you live in drier areas) to encourage the health of your soil thanks to the organic material found in it. Here we look at what it is and the benefits it offers to the environment and to your garden too.

Cryptobiotic soil is more important and more fascinating than any other type of soil. It plays a crucial role in nature, especially helping to stabilize the sand found in deserts, allowing the vegetation to grow roots and receive sustenance.

However, there is a lot more about it – including what it actually is and why it is so important.

What is Cryptobiotic Soil?

The correct terminology for cryptobiotic soil is actually a biological crust on soil formed by organisms whose by-products are bound together with organic material.

This type of soil covers more than 70% of the earth in the hot Southwest and has different particularities according to the area it is in. Research showed that cryptobiotic soil was one of the first living things on Earth 3.5 billion years ago.

In short, cryptobiotic soil acts as the glue which holds together the desert. It helps plants to establish their roots in a safe and robust place, allowing them to grow.

Furthermore, cryptobiotic soil helps to keep the soil in place when it rains and sustains life in deserts.

Cryptobiotic soil has a role that cannot be overstated. It is a top layer on the ground that helps the environment and other living organisms to survive.

Source: KCET

Benefits of Cryptobiotic Soil

Now that you know what cryptobiotic soil is, let’s take a look at the benefits it offers the environment.

Protecting the Ground Against Rainfall

First of all, while rainfall in the desert might be rare, it is quite intense when it happens. One of the main issues in the desert is erosion because of the fragility of the dry soil.

Cryptobiotic soil is a hard layer on top of this ground, offering sturdiness and protection to the soil underneath, plants, and other organisms, acting like a shield during rainfall and stopping them from being washed away.

This layer absorbs the water, ensuring that the soil underneath is not washed away, and provides moisture in the dry season.

Encouraging Life

During the dry season, the cryptobiotic crust has numerous dormant organisms, including mosses, cyanobacteria, lichens, algae, and fungi.

These come to life when it rains, while all of these organisms start moving through the sand leaving behind them gelatinous substances on the loose areas. This is the beginning of new cryptobiotic soil.

Helping Plants Survive

Cryptobiotic soil has a crucial role for all of the plants around it. Sand is not the right environment for seeds to thrive, as it buries seeds in deep places with no nutrients or, alternatively, makes them blow through the wind.

The crypto soil catches them in its nutritious surface, allowing them to grow.

It also has a dark color, which ensures the right temperature for germination.

Some examples of plants that grow thanks to this crust include Blue Flax, Sixweeks Fescue, Mountain Peppergrass, Desert Blazing Star, Rock-Cress Prostate Summercypress, and others.

Protecting Against Invasive Plants

On the other hand, there are some species that do not thrive in the cryptobiotic soil. As it is robust and hard, seeds cannot develop in-depth, and so they are prevented from germination.

However, these seeds are not native species, so the cryptobiotic soil prevents invasive plants from growing and spreading.

Nitrogen Fixation

Finally, cryptobiotic soil plays an essential role in nitrogen fixation. It is well-known that plants require nitrogen in order to create DNA, proteins, and amino acids.

Without nitrogen fixation, plants would not be able to remain alive. Cryptobiotic soil assists plants by turning nitrogen captured from the atmosphere into a type of nitrogen that is used by plants.


What damages cryptobiotic soil?

Human activity is the biggest threat to cryptobiotic soil. One boot print can destroy even thousands of years of growth.

How long does it take to recover?

Once the soil is damaged by feet, animals, ATVs, or others, it can take up to 250 years for recovery if there are favorable conditions.

What happens without cryptobiotic soil?

The lack of crypto soil leads to decreased biodiversity, up to 6 times the soil loss compared to when it is present, and even harmless native plants can become harmful.


All in all, the importance of cryptobiotic soil cannot be overstated. It is an essential layer of the desert that protects and sustains life. Its critical role acts as a shield of the fragile ecosystems.