Regarding the Earthworm

Day 2: Celebrating Soil Security

In this season of dreary long lines at the checkout counter and dull office parties and we could all use a little something to toss about to lighten the mood and spark conversation. Here are a few fun facts that are a definite departure from complaining about the wait or checking messages on your device (again):

Oregon and Washington are home to giant (but elusive) earthworms said to smell strongly of lilies (!!!)

More than a million earthworms may be found in an acre of land.

A single earthworm may produce up to ten pounds of castings per year.

Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida Illustration: Craig Latker

Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida) Illustration: Craig Latker

Today, gardeners appreciate the role these digesters play in the landscape but that wasn’t always the case. As part of our regular Garden Allies series that appears in our Field Notes department, the following  first appeared in the January 2009 issue of Pacific Horticulture.

Gardeners now hold earthworms in high regard, but even so, few of us understand the full scope of their role, not only in the garden, but in field and forest as well. An important agent of decomposition, earthworms are the ultimate recyclers. While most earthworms feed on plant material and ingest soil in the process, some thrive on an earthier diet. Earthworms can be divided into three groups. Epigeic worms, which include the common red wiggler used in compost bins, live on the surface of the earth, and eat rotting organic matter. They have a high rate of reproduction, useful to anyone starting a worm composting system. Endogeic worms live within the soil, build lateral burrows, and are the only worms that eat large quantities of soil. They have little effect on surface litter, but prefer soils rich in organic matter, where they may play a role in decomposition of dead plant roots and in aeration. Anecic worms, also known as nightcrawlers, come to the surface at night to drag leaves and other organic matter into their deep and permanent vertical burrows. Anecic worms play a central role in the decomposition of leaf litter and soil formation wherever they are found.

You can read the entire “Earthworms” story by Frederique Lavoipierre here.

Personally, next time I’m waiting in line for a coffee I think I’ll casually bring up giant lily-scented PNW earthworms.