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Geoderma, 45 (1989) 375-388 375

Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam - - Printed in The Netherlands

Characterization of a Weathering Sequence of Soils

Derived from Volcanic Ash in Cameroon.
Taxonomic, Mineralogical and Agronomic


IIRFA/CIRAD, c/o Unit~ CIFA, Facultd des Sciences Agronomiques, Universitd Catholique de
Louvain, place Croix du Sud, 1, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)
2Centre de Pddologie Biologique, U P 68631 du C.N.R.S. Associde it l'Universit~ de Nancy I,
B.P. No. 5, 54501 Vandoeuvre-lks-Nancy Cedex (France)
3Section de Physico-chimie Mindrale du Musde Royal de l'Afrique Centrale, place Croix du
Sud, I, 1348, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)
(Received October 27, 1988; accepted after revision May 25, 1989)


Delvaux, B., Herbillon, A.J. and Vielvoye, L., 1989. Characterization of a weathering sequence of
soils derived from volcanic ash in Cameroon. Taxonomic, mineralogical and agronomic impli-
cations. Geoderma, 45: 375-388.

The characteristics of eight pedons developed in Quaternary basaltic pyroclasts in Western

Cameroon under humid tropical conditions are reported. The soil weathering sequence consists
of an Andept-Tropept-Udalf-Udult association. Andic properties, physico-chemical character-
istics and weathering stage clearly distinguish the taxonomic units. The total reserve in bases
(TRB) and the clay content measured after adequate H20 dispersion with Na+-resins both ap-
pear to be suitable weathering indices. Clay mineralogy of non andic soils shows direct relation-
ships between interstratified halloysite-smectite content, CEC of the clay fraction and weathering
stage. The weathering stage of the investigated soils is reflected not only in their components and
classification, but also in their nutrient status and banana crop performance.


In south western Cameroon, two major volcanos are associated with the
south-southwestern-north-northeastern oriented volcanic field of West Af-
rica: Mount Cameroon (alt. 4095 m) and Mount Manengouba (alt. 2396 m).
Several subsidiary cones lie in between at lower elevations (50-600 m) in the
Mungo plain (4 3 0 ' - 4 53' N 9 3 7 ' - 9 50' E). Their volcanic activity has pre-

*1Corresponding author.

0016-7061/89/$03.50 1989 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.


vailed since the beginning of the Quaternary period, resulting in important ash,
cinder and lapilli deposits of varying ages (Dumort, 1968). These pyroclastic
ejecta are of basaltic composition, consisting of glasses, plagioclases, augites
and olivines. Soils have now developed in these deposits.
Climate in the Mungo plain is typically humid tropical with a long rainy
season extending from March to November and a three months drier period.
Mean annual rainfall extends from 2400 to 2900 mm while mean average tem-
peratures range from 24 to 27C (Sieffermann, 1973).
Under such conditions of rather homogeneous climate and parent rock, time
becomes the most important pedogenetic factor: the Mungo plain is thus a
suitable area to study soils occurring in chronosequences (Sieffermann, 1973 ),
as it is reported also in other volcanic areas in the humid tropics (see e.g.
Colmet-Daage and Gautheyrou, 1974; Quantin, 1974).
This paper reports the characteristics of soils forming a typical weathering
sequence and discusses their classification and their fertility constraints in
relation to banana cropping. In this latter respect, the Mungo plain is a major
area of industrial banana production of Cameroon.


All studied soils are under intensive banana cultivation and thus are fertil-
ized heavily with nitrogen and potash, at least at sampling time (1984).

Field sampling

Eight profiles were selected in order to cover a range of volcanic ash soils
under banana cultivation arrived at different stages of weathering. They were
described according to the FAO guidelines (1977) and bulk samples collected
from each horizon of each profile. Samples were air dried (20 h) and sieved
( < 2 mm) prior to analysis. Undisturbed 100 cm 3 ring samples were collected
from some horizons for bulk density measurements.

Physical analysis

Bulk density (g/cm ~) was measured after drying up (110C) to constant

weight the undisturbed samples (100 cm3). Two methods were used for deter-
mining the particle size. Method (a) consisted of H202 oxidation, Na hexa-
metaphosphate dispersion, clay + silt pipetting and sand fractions sieving. This
method gave no reliable results for Andepts, hence the following one was ap-
plied to selected samples. With method (b), sand fractions were obtained
through ultrasonic dispersion of < 2 mm samples and repeated wet sieving
( > 50 ttm); simultaneously, clay and silt fractions were collected from that
sieving. The latter fractions ( < 50 ttm) were then submitted to prolonged dis-

persion (18 h) in salt-free water with Na +-resins (Rouiller et al., 1972) with-
out any further pretreatment, and finally determined by clay and silt pipetting.

Soil chemical analysis

Total carbon (Walkley-Black), exchangeable cations and CEC (M NH4OAc

pH 7 ), and KCl-extractable (A1 + H) were determined through the procedures
outlined by Black et al. (1965); pH was measured both in water and M KC1
(1:2.5). Oxalate Si, A1 and Fe contents and P retention values were measured
according the methods described by Blakemore et al. (1981). DCB extractable
Fe and AI were determined by atomic absorption spectrophotometry after ex-
traction with Na dithionite-citrate-bicarbonate (DCB) according to Mehra
and Jackson (1960). Elemental analyses were made n HF-H2SO4 digests of
calcined < 2 mm soil samples; A1, Fe, Ca, Mg, K, Na and Mn were determined
by atomic absorption spectrophotometry, Ti with chromotropic acid colori-
metry and Si by difference.

Clay mineral analysis

Two series of clay materials ( < 2 ~tm) were obtained: (i) after ultrasonic
and Na2C03 dispersion at pH 8; (ii) after oxidation of organic matter with
H202 (30-50 C, pH 5.5 ), free oxides removal by dithionite-citrate-bicarbon-
ate (Mehra and Jackson, 1960) and Na2C03 dispersion at pH 8. Undeferrated
(1) and deferrated (2) clays were oriented on ceramic tiles and XRD patterns
were obtained with a Philips diffractometer using Ni-filtered Cu Ka radiation
(40 KV, 35 mA, 1 /min.); the formamide saturation method was used to es-
timate halloysite and kaolinite contents (Churchman et al., 1984). Clay CEC
was measured with M NH4OAc pH 7 (Mackenzie, 1952 ) on selected deferrated
samples (ii).


Morphological and physico-chemical properties

Tables I, II and III present some selected morphological, physical and chem-
ical properties of the eight pedons. Pedons MB2, LO1 and NA13 all key out as
Dystrandepts in Soil Taxonomy (Soil Survey Staff, 1975 ): their bulk densities
(0.4-0.7 g/cm 3) are usual for such soils while their high CEC (pH 7) values
and C contents are also typical of soils with andic properties. Allophane was
identified in similar soils of the same area by Sieffermann (1973). The pres-
ence of short-range-order minerals is confirmed by rather high contents of
oxalate extractable Si, A1 and Fe in the Dystrandepts (Table I ). Based upon a
hypothetical composition of allophane with A1/Si ratio=2/1 (Parfitt and


Morphological and physico-chemical properties (%) of andic soils MB2 LO1 NA13 a n d SN4

Horizon Depth Colour Bulk density C P ret. Sio Alo Feo Ald Fed
(cm) (moist) ( g / c m 3)

I. MB2 Entic Dystrandept

Ap 00-12 10YR3/1 0.64 3.9 87 2.6 5.3 3.1 1.3 4.4
Bw 12-35 10YR3/2 0.40 3.7 93 2.9 5.3 3.2 1.4 4.6
C 35-55 10YR3/2 - 1.5 97 2.8 5.2 3.3 -
2. L01 Hydric Dystrandept
Apl 00-08 10YR2/2 0.54 6.1 92 2.0 3.9 3.5
Ap2 08-30 10YR2/2 0.50 5.8 92 1.9 4.0 3.4 0.9 4.8
Bwl 30-47 10YR3/3 0.63 5.3 94 2.0 4.1 3.3
Bw2 47-73 10YR3/3 0.60 3.5 98 3.0 6.0 4.1 1.8 7.1
Bw3 73-101 10YR3/3 0.65 1.8 98 3.3 5.6 4.5
3. NA13 Typic Dystrandept
Ap 00-15 10YR2/2 0.62 6.7 94 2.5 5.8 3.5 1.1 4.5
AB 15-40 10YR3/3 0.65 3.1 98 3.3 7.1 4.4
Bwl 40-77 7.5YR3/2 0.68 2.7 97 4.0 8.3 4.7 1.9 7.0
Bw2 77-103 7.5YR3/2 - 1.4
4. SN4 Andic Humitropept
Ap 00-12 10YR2/2 0.78 3.7 86 1.5 3.3 3.8
AB 12-35 10YR3/2 0.88 2.5 90 1.8 3.8 3.6 1.2 5.9
Bwl 35-58 7.5YR3/2 0.83 1.9 84 1.7 2.8 3.9
Bw2 58-78 7.5YR3/2 0.81 1.7 82 1.8 3.0 4.0 1.1 6.4

Henmi, 1982), estimated allophane contents range between 15-30% in these

soils. Estimated content is 10% in pedon SN4 which is classified as an Andic
Humitropept because of its higher bulk densities in the upper 35 cm. Low Sio
levels are a feature of the more weathered soils, consistent with the disappear-
ance of allophane in more weathered soils (Table II). Increased bulk density
and clay content as well as the presence of an argillic horizon (clay cutans)
characterize pedons IR13, SN2 and MK1. The first two pedons are respectively
Typic and Ultic Tropudalfs, and MK1 is a Typic Paleudult. Pedon SN5 has a
cambic horizon and keys out as a Typic Dystropept.
Data shown in Tables I, II, III thus clearly indicate a gradual loss of andic
characters in the studied sequence, i.e. from the Entic Dystrandept (MB2) to
the Typic Paleudult (MK1) pedon: (1) increase in colour contrast in the B
horizon, solum thickness, bulk density and clay content, (2) decrease in the A
horizon thickness, carbon content, CEC (pH 7), P retention and oxalate ex-
tractable Si, Al and Fe.
The gradual loss of andic properties in this soil sequence parallels the de-
velopment of an argillic horizon and a general decrease of exchangeable cal-
cium and magnesium contents, as shown in Table III. It is, however, worth


Morphological a n d p h y s i c o - c h e m i c a l properties (%) of n o n - a n d i c soils SN5, IR13, SN2 and MK1

Horizon Depth Colour Bulk Clay C P r e t . Sio Alo Feo Aid Fed
(cm) (moist) density c o n t e n t *1
( g / c m ~)

5. SN5 Typic Dystropept

Ap 00-17 10YR3/2 0.96 55 2.8 68 0.4 1.2 4.1 1.2 8.9
Bwl 17-40 7.5YR3/2 1.05 63 1.4 72 0.3 1.1 4.2 -
Bw2 40-84 7.5YR3/2 1.03 64 0.6 74 0.3 1.1 4.6 1.3 10.4
2Bw3 84-103 7.5YR3/2 - 55 0.2 - -
2Bw4 103-140 7.5YR3/2 67 0.3 - - -
6. IR13 Typic Tropudalf
Ap 00-20 10YR3/2 0.95 53 1.8 57 0.0 0.9 2.6 0.7 6.9
BA 20-50 10YR3/2 1.05 53 0.8 58 0.1 1.4 4.4 -
Btl 50-90 10YR3/3 1.10 69 0.4 49 0.3 0.4 1.7 0.7 8.8
Bt2 90-133 7.5YR3/3 - 73 0.3 50 0.3 0.4 1.9 -
Bwl 133-162 7.5YR3/3 - 72 0.2 53 0.3 0.4 2.2 -
Bw2 162-190 7.5YR3/3 54 0.2 - - -
7. SN2 Ultic Tropudalf
Apl 00-08 10YR3/2 0.90 68 2.0 58 0.0 0.4 1.2
Ap2 08-17 10YR3/2 1.00 70 1.9 60 0.0 0.4 1.6 1.0 9.0
Btl 17-30 7.5YR3/2 1.15 73 0.8 65 0.0 0.4 1.4
Bt2 30-63 7.5YR3/3 1.10 76 0.4 66 0.0 0.3 1.2 1.0 9.2
Bt3 63-125 7.5YR3/3 1.05 62 0.4 70 0.0 0.3 1.5
Bwl 125-148 7.5YR3/3 55 0.3 73 0.0 0.3 1.5
Bw2 148-160 7.5YR3/3 0.2 70 1.0 0.3 1.3
8. MK1 Typic Paleudilt
Ap 00-11 10YR3/3 1.10 79 2.1 61 0.0 0.5 1.1 1.5 10.3
BA 11-34 10YR4/4 1.15 82 1.5 62 0.1 0.6 1.0
Btl 34-68 10YR4/4 1.10 87 1.0 82 0.1 0.6 1.0 -
Bt2 68-99 10YR4/4 1.10 88 0.6 83 0.1 0.6 1.1 1.6 11.2
Bt3 99-135 10YR4/4 85 0.3 78 0.1 0.6 1.1
Bw 135-185 10YR4/4 86 0.2 89 0.1 0.6 1.0 -

*1Method (a).

considering the position of pedon NA13 which is more leached, likely because
it is located in an area with higher rainfall pattern (2.900 mm/yr). Table III
also indicates low K saturation values in the Dystrandepts (%K/ECEC < 10% ).
These values increase in pedons SN4, SN5, IR13 and reach maximum values
in the Typic Dystropept (SN5:%K/ECEC = 25-33% ).

Weathering stage

Table IV presents the elemental analysis data for some selected B horizons.
These results indicate high iron contents in all the samples studied. Magne-


Exchange complex (me/100 g) a n d pH of selected A and B horizons

Pedon pH Exchangeable cations Extr. acidity CEC

horizon pH7
H20 KCI Ca Mg Na K A1 H

MB2 Entic Dystrandept

Ap 6.3 5.5 16.6 2.9 0.2 1.2 0.0 0.0 46.5
Bw 5.9 5.1 9.3 1.6 0.1 0.5 0.0 0.0 41.6
L01 Hydric Dystrandept
Ap2 5.8 4.9 15.3 1.9 0.1 1.9 0.0 0.0 52.9
Bw2 6.6 5.9 14.6 1.4 0.0 1.6 - - 44.3
NA13 Typic Dystrandept
Ap 4.3 4.0 2.4 0.7 0.1 1.2 4.3 1.4 53.3
AB 4.9 4.4 1.7 0.8 0.0 0.3 2.1 0.2 41.6
Bwl 5.7 4.3 7.3 1.8 0.0 0.8 0.0 0.1 43.7
SN4 Andic Humitropept
AB 5.6 4.7 7.6 2.1 0.1 2.1 - 34.5
Bw2 6.2 5.1 14.2 3.8 0.1 0.6 - 37.8
SN5 Typic Dystropept
Ap 5.5 4.7 7.9 4.7 0.0 6.5 0.0 0.2 40.0
Bw2 5.8 4.5 5.6 2.1 0.1 2.7 0.0 0.0 37.1
IR13 Typic Tropudal[
Ap 5.1 4.2 6.9 3.8 0.2 2.4 0.2 0.4 30.8
Btl 6.1 4.9 9.0 3.4 0.1 1.1 0.0 0.0 23.3
SN2 Ultic Tropudal[
Ap2 5.4 4.3 6.7 2.6 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.3 26.0
Bt~ 5.4 4.5 6.3 1.7 0.0 1.5 0.0 0.3 24.2
MK1 Typic Paleudult
Ap 4.5 4.0 1.0 0.4 0.0 1.2 3.7 0.7 18.7
Bt2 4.8 4.2 2.2 1.1 0.0 0.8 3.0 0.1 17.8

sium is the most important basic cation with particularly high levels in the
Andepts and Tropepts (MB2 to SN5). Ca contents regularly decrease from
Andepts to Udalfs (IR13, SN2) and Udult (MK1). K levels are particularly
low (even lower than Na) in the least weathered Andepts (MB2, LO1 ) while
a slight relative accumulation of this element is noticeable in Udalf samples
(IR13, SN2 ). Elemental analyses ofpedons MB2 and LO1 are consistent with
known chemical compositions of basaltic parent rocks in these areas, in which
glasses, plagioclases and ferromagnesians dominate while K bearing minerals
are virtually absent (Dumort, 1968; Sieffermann, 1973). Magnesium content
thus appears as a good tracer of the weathering stage in the studied soil sequence.
Conventional SiOffA120~ and SiOJR203 molar ratios do not adequately


Soil elemental analysis of selected B horizons (elements as To oxides by weight on the oven-dried (105 C)
materials (0-2 m m ) ; total reserve in bases, T R B )

Pedon IgnitionSi02 Al203 Fe203 Ti02 CaO MgO K20 Na20 Mn304 T R B
horizon loss (me/100 g soil)
MB2Bw 16.62 33.95 19.81 16.82 3.74 3.50 4.30 0.25 0.68 0.33 365
LO1Bw2 17.68 31.70 21.02 17.39 3.87 2.13 5.25 0.18 0.49 0.29 356
NA13Bwl 16.79 28.33 24.95 20.25 4.74 0.36 3.99 0.16 0.08 0.35 217
SN5Bw2 12.02 34.45 23.28 21.05 4.74 0.34 3.45 0.27 0.05 0.35 190
IR13Btl 10.80 44.94 21.17 17.16 3.94 0.39 0.80 0.37 0.14 0.29 65
SN2Bt2 11.86 40.63 24.80 17.39 3.74 0.18 0.53 0.47 0.16 0.24 47
MK1Bt2 13.46 34.09 24.50 21.74 4.60 0.15 0.48 0.21 0.04 0.73 32

discriminate between the soils but other weathering indices do. They are listed
as follows.
(1) The Total Reserve in Bases (TRB) is the sum of basic cations
(Ca + Mg K + Na) (me/100 g soil) and gives a chemical estimation of weath-
erable minerals (Herbillon, 1989): TRB includes the bases occluded in pri-
mary minerals as well as those located on exchange sites and also possibly in
the secondary clay minerals;
(2) The scalar weathering index of Parker (1970) is based upon cationic
bases contents and calculated from the expression:
(Na)a, (Mg)., (K)._ (Ca)a "
0.35 ^ 100

where (X)a indicates the atomic proportion of element X defined as atomic

percentage divided by atomic weight and denominators are weighting factors
related to the element-oxygen bond strength (Parker, 1970);
(3) The clay content as measured by method (b), i.e. after adequate H20
dispersion with Na+-resins; and
(4) The relative content of crystalline iron oxides is estimated through the
expression (Fed-Feo)/Fetot~l.
All these criteriaare relatedto each other as illustratedin Fig. 1. As weath-
ering proceeds, i.e.from the Entic Dystrandept to the Typic Paleudult,both
clay and relativecrystallizedFe oxide contents increase while T R B and Par-
ker's index values decrease.
Although no statisticalevaluationhas been made, Fig. I indicatesthat T R B
values seem to discriminate fairlywell investigatedInceptisolsfrom Udalfs
and Udult, i.e.the cambic horizons ( T R B > 150 me/100 g) from the argillic
ones ( T R B < 70 me/100 g). T R B values measured in the leastweathered An-
depts ( T R B > 350 me/100 g) are due to theirhigher Ca and M g contents.The
T R B value measured for the Typic Paleudult (32 me/100 g soil)is below the


00 00 0

>" 60
O 0 0

40 0 0 0

i I i J J J i ~ ' 210 J 310 , .J i L i
100 200 300 10 0 2 0.4 06

TRB Parker index Fed - Feo

me/lOOg soil Fetota I

o Andept Tropept Udalf Udult

Fig. 1. Relationships between the clay content ( M e t h o d b, Na + -resins ) of selected B horizons and
their (a) Total Reserve in Bases ( T R B ) , (b) Parker's weathering index, a n d (c) relative c o n t e n t
of crystalline iron oxides of < 2 m m material.

0 o
o o
- A- P . . . . . . -o . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
-& 70

6O i
o. LI


I i L J L i J l k i J
2 4 6 8 10 12

AI o + 1 / 2 Fe o (%)

Fig. 2. Relationship between P retention and (Al+ 1/2 Fe) oxalate content in some selected A
and B horizons. Same symbols as in Fig. 1.

40 me/100 g upper limit proposed for oxic horizons by Herbillon (1989). The
variation in the Parker index among the soils is proportional to their Mg
The occurrence of different stages of soil evolution, suggested by their clas-
sification, are supported by the above evaluation of their weathering stage.

Andic properties

In the final proposal for classifying Andisols (Leamy, 1988), andic proper-


Classification of the Andepts studied

Pedon Soil taxonomy Leamy, 1988

MB2 Entic Dystrandept Vitric Hapludand
LO1 Hydric Dystrandept Pachic Hapludand
NA13 Typic Dystrandept Alic Hapludand
SN4 Andic Humitropept Typic Hapludand

ties are defined by the following combination of characteristics : bulk density

< 0.90 g/cm 3, P retention > 85% and (Alo + 1/2 Feo) > 2.0%.
Fig. 2. illustrates the relationship between the last two parameters in se-
lected A and B horizons of the studied soils. This graph clearly distinguishes
the Andepts from the Udalfs and Udult in this study. The former have an
exchange complex dominated by short range order aluminosilicates identified
as allophane while the latter are devoid of such minerals (see Table II): they
have low oxalate extractable A1 and Fe contents but show variable P-retention
values, which are particularly high in the B horizon of pedon MK1 (Typic
The studied Tropepts have an intermediate position between these two
groups (Fig. 2) and this is mainly due to their high Feo values (3-4%: see
Tables I and II). In the Tropepts, the highest P retention and (Alo+ 1/2 Feo)
values occurred in SN4 profile (Andic Humitropept). This pedon will probably
key out in the Andisol order of the new taxonomic proposals (Leamy, 1988) in
view of its bulk density, P retention, and (Alo+ 1/2 Feo) values in the upper
35 cm of the profile (see Table I).
Oxalata extractable iron contents (Feo) range from 3 to 5% Fe in both An-
depts and Tropepts (see Tables I and II). These values are high when com-
pared to most presently available data in similar soils (Russel et al., 1981;
Parfitt et al., 1983, 1984; Shoji and Fujiwara, 1984; Baham and Simonson,
1985; Parfitt and Wilson, 1985; Shoji et al., 1985). Feo/Fed > 0.55 and C con-
tents > 3% in the studied Dystrandepts (Table I) may suggest the presence of
ferrihydrite in these soils (Schwertmann, 1988) as identified in basalt derived,
high P fixing soils in Hawaii (Parfitt et al., 1988). The Andepts studied in this
paper would key out as Andisols in the new proposals (Leamy, 1988) and their
classification is shown in Table V. Pedon NA13 qualifies as an Alic Hapludand
because of its high M-KC1 extractable A1 content (Table III).

Clay mineralogy and chargeproperties

To each weathering stage of the soil sequence corresponds a different clay

mineralogy. Allophane dominates the exchange complex of the Dystrandepts.


~., 70


0 i4 0 i6 . .0.8. . . 1,0 ;. . . .26

.... 30 34 3'8
H/{H+K) CEC me/lO0 g clay

Fig. 3. Plotting of the clay content of the B horizons against (a) the relative content of halloysite
(H) with respect to kaolinite (K), and (b) the CEC of the deferrated clay fractions. CEC of
deferrated sample SN4 (Andic Humitropept) has been measured after an additional oxalate treat-
ment (Blakemore et al., 1981 ). Same symbols as in Fig. 1.

In the Tropepts, Udalfs and Udults, XRD identified clay minerals are mainly
1:1 hydrated and dehydrated phyllosilicates, halloysite and kaolinite, while
minor oxide phases are goethite, gibbsite and anatase.
Relative halloysite and kaolinite contents are estimated through Ilo/(Ilo + I7 )
XR peak intensity (]~) ratios after formamide intercalation {Churchman et
al., 1984). Fig. 3 shows that relative halloysite content decreases regularly from
98% in the Andic Humitropept (SN4) to 38% in the Typic Paleudult (MK1).
This decrease appears to be related to both the weathering stage (clay content)
and the CEC of the clay ( < 2/lm) fraction (Fig. 3 ).
In halloysite-rich (10 it) deferrated clays, CEC is as high as 35-38 me/100
g clay. It drops to 24 me/100 g clay in the Typic Paleudult. These results raise
the point of the origin of the layer charge of halloysitic minerals in these soils.
In a previous study, it was shown that, in these soils (Tropepts, Udalfs,
Udult studied here), hydrated halloysite is not pure but interstratified with 2:1
swelling clays probably of beidellitic nature (Delvaux et al., 1988). Therefore
the parallel decrease of relative halloysite content H / ( H + K) and CEC (Fig.
3 ) is due to the facts that (1) smectite and halloysite are associated within a
mixed-layer phase, and (2) both halloysite and thus smectite contents de-
crease with soil weathering stage. The same study also reported a direct rela-
tionship between potassium exchange selectivity of the clay exchanger and the
relative halloysite content, attributed to the contamination of 1:1 clays by high
charge smectite.

Agronomic implications

A soil-plant-management practices survey including topsoil-foliar diagnosis

has been undertaken in banana plantations of the Mungo area. Close relation-
ships were found between soil type, nutrient status of banana plants and crop

I TRB me/lO0 g soil I 350 - 580 50 - 190 25 - 40

iECEC me/lOOg soil I 1 5 - 25 13 - 1 8 6- 8

Cation saturation as ]
related to soil ECEC

Cation proportions as
related to their sum
in banana leaves

K deficiency adequate excess K-induced

nutrition Mg deficiency

Crop performancel low yields high yields very low yields

Fig. 4. Schematic relationships between soil units and: TRB and ECEC values, exchangeable
cation saturation as related to soil ECEC, cation proportion as related to the sum (K + Ca + Mg)
in banana leaf samples (3rd leaf, inner side of lamina ) and crop performance (Delvaux, 1988 ).

performance (Delvaux et al., 1986), that are summarized in Fig. 4 and also as
Andepts commonly showed low K-saturation percentages, even when K fer-
tilized, and K deficiencies were often observed on banana plants. Despite their
high CEC, split of K fertilizer was found to be a key practice to achieve high
banana crop yields in these soils. Phosphorus nutrition of the plants was found
to be adequate, despite the high P-retention values measured in these soils
(Table I ).
The topsoils of Tropepts and Udalfs invariably showed high K saturation
percentages (15-35%) and high CEC values (30-40 me/100 g soil): they usu-
ally sustain high yielding intensive crops with adequate nutrient status.
On more weathered soils (Udults), both a high A1 saturation and an excess
of K relatively to Mg (high exchangeable K/Mg ratios) hindered magnesium
uptake by banana plants which suffered from a typical excess K-induced Mg
deficiency leading to low yielding crops. Actually, banana plant is known to be

very sensitive to such a deficiency in acid soils having high exchangeable K /

Mg ratios (see e.g. Martin-Prevel and Montagut, 1966).
Such soil-plant relationships (Fig. 4) may be explained by both the weath-
ering stage of the studied soils and the nature of their exchange complex.
Weathering stage probably influences nutrient availability for banana plants
through basic cation flow from primary minerals to soil solution and finally
exchange complex through soil-solution and root-solution equilibria.
In the least weathered Andepts, high Ca and low K saturations of the ex-
change sites were directly related to both low banana leaf K contents and the
occurrence of K deficiency, as visually observed on banana plants (Delvaux et
al., 1986). High exchangeable-Ca levels can be related to the high Ca reserve
of these soils while low K saturation is likely due to the low affinity of both
organic matter and allophane for the monovalent cation (see e.g. Okamura
and Wada, 1984; Wada, 1985), making that nutrient very sensitive to leaching
loss in andic soils.
In Tropepts and Udalfs, both higher K saturation and high Ca and Mg levels
lead to an adequate cationic nutrient balance (Fig. 4). Such K saturation sug-
gests the existence of specific interactions between potassium and the ex-
change complex of halloysitic soils as already observed elsewhere (Gomez de
Rivas et al., 1982; Godefroy and Dormoy, 1983). In the present case, such a
specific interaction is due to the contamination of hydrated halloysite with
high charge smectite, as mentioned above (see Delvaux et al., 1988). This re-
sults in higher K retention and likely lower leaching loss of that nutrient in
the Tropepts and Udalfs studied here.
In acid Udults. low Mg reserves, high exchangeable K / M g ratios and high
A1 saturation lead to deficient Mg uptake by banana plants (Fig. 4). Such
observations also highlight the relationship between the fertility constraints
of these soils and both their weathering stage and the nature of their exchange


The physico-chemical and mineralogical characteristics of eight soils de-

rived from Quaternary basaltic pyroclasts in western Cameroon are closely
related to their weathering stage. This is also reflected in their classification,
soil nutrient status and banana crop performance.
The higher Ca and Mg nutrient status in the least weathered andic soils
contributes to the frequent occurrence of K deficiency in these soils. Both
weathering stage - i.e. low Mg status - and charge properties (K affinity) of
the clay fraction in the Udult are likely to promote the excess K-induced Mg
deficiency of banana trees in these acid soils.
Clay mineralogy of non-andic soils shows that halloysite dominates the ex-
change complex of Tropepts while kaolinite is the main clay mineral in the

Udult. The composition of the 1 : I phyllosilicates mixture is related to the CEC

of the deferrated clay fraction; as weathering proceeds, both relative halloysite
content and clay CEC decrease because of a close association (i.e. an inter-
stratification) of hydrated halloysitic minerals with 2:1 smectitic clays in these


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