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Cultivos Tropicales

Print version ISSN 0258-5936On-line version ISSN 1819-4087

cultrop vol.40 no.1 La Habana Jan.-Mar. 2019



The soil classification of Cuba: emphasis in the 2015 version

Alberto Hernández-Jiménez1  * 

Juan Miguel Pérez-Jiménez2 

Dalmacio Bosch-Infante2 

Nelson Castro Speck2 

1Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Agrícolas (INCA), carretera San José-Tapaste, km 3½, Gaveta Postal 1, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba. CP 32 700

2Instituto de Suelos. Autopista Costa-Costa Apdo. 8022. Capdevila, Boyeros, La Habana, Cuba


Cuba is among the few countries that have developed its own soil classification system, the latest version, 21 years ago, so it is necessary to review and update it. This update should be on the basis of the new results in soil classification in the world. So that, in our paper we are taking in account the historical principle (that is the name of the soils, and the genetic geographic basis) and with the information available, try to improve the soil classification with the establishment of diagnostics profile. In our soil classification system for Alitic, Ferritic, Ferralític Ferralic and Histosol is prepare dagnostic soil profile until soil subtypes. In the case of Fersiallitic, Siallític Brown, Siallitic Humic, Vertisols, Fluvisols, Halomorphic and Few Developed Soils Groups, diagnosis profile is stablished until genus level. This classification results a Soil Taxonomy until soil subtypes or soil genus, unlike the previous classifications. We are applying also the anthropic influence in the change of soil properties, with new agrogenic and erogenic soil subtypes. In the Group of Anthrosol there are new soil types and there is a new soil group named Tecnosol with two soil types. The name of Hydromorphic soil group is changed by Gleysol and there is a new soil subtype named slitic. This version has 15 groupings, 39 genetic types and 197 subtypes of soils.

Key words: New version; taxonomy; tropical soils; Soil profile; diagnosis


Cuba together with Brazil are the only countries in Latin America that have their own soil classification system 1. The system of classification of soils of Cuba (CSC) arises with the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 that between its multiple actions creates the nascent Academy of Sciences of Cuba (ACC). The Institute of Soils was founded within the development of the ACC in 1965. Under the tasks of this Institute, the first basic map of Cuban soils is carried out (scale 1: 250 000), with a classification system based on genetic-geographical principles, under the advice of specialists from the People's Republic of China. Later, in this institute, collaboration is received from specialists of the Former Soviet Union and France, with which the genetic-geographical investigations of the soils of the country are continued and different versions of the CSC are being elaborated, with periodic reviews between five and eight years.

Until 2015 this classification has had six versions, being the last one in this year. The objective of this work is to perform an analysis of the evolution of this classification in our country, including the principles and general characteristics of it.


For the elaboration of this work, the second doctorate thesis entitled "Proposal of Classification of the Soils of Cuba based on International and National edaphological results" was taken as reference 2, which was based on a historical account of the development of the classification of soils in Cuba and in the World. In addition to classifying more than 2 000 soil profiles of numerous publications on Cuban soils, the results obtained in the latest version of soil classification in Cuba, elaborated in 1994 and published in 1999 3, were also taken into account.


Counting historical summary

The soil classification of Cuba is characterized by having influence of different schools. Initially Crawley, 4 presented in his book "The Lands of Cuba" a classification of soils in which he names the soils with the term of land and separates them by color, texture, content in gravels and stones. Actually this type of classification should be considered as an ethno-edaphological classification. Years later, in 1928 the work "The Soils of Cuba" was published by the American soil scientists H.H. Bennett and R.V. Allison, which implemented a classification system in Series and Families of soils, which was the one that predominated in the United States at that time. In this work about 90 Series of Soils were diagnosed, applied in a map of 1: 800 000 scale combinations; without classifying the soils of the mountainous regions, which were put in general contours with the term "Scabrous".

This work was little known in Cuba, it was only applied by very few specialists, and even in the Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Havana there was only one copy of this book, in English. It was not until the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 that it was translated into Spanish in 1962, with the collaboration of the Cuban Commission of UNESCO 5.

With the creation of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources an attempt was made to make a basic map scale 1: 100 000 with this classification, but only this map was made for the western provinces and part of the old province of Las Villas. In this work 227 series of soils have already been diagnosed, without taking into account the soils of the more extensive Camagüey and eastern provinces, nor those of the mountainous regions.

Since 1964, with the creation of the Soils Department in the former National Agrarian Reform Institute (INRA), this classification was developed for the province of Camagüey. Subsequently, under the National Soil and Fertilizer Directorate, in the Ministry of Agriculture, a 1:50 000 scale soil map is prepared, without the mountainous regions, only with the original 90 series of work by Bennett and Allison. This result is scarcely applied because it does not diagnose the complete spectrum of soils that exist in the country and, in addition, by that date this classification system is obsolete, even in the United States.

With the development of Science in Cuba, starting in 1959, and with the foundation of the Institute of Soils in 1965, other ideas arise in relation to soil classification and cartography. The genetic-geographical principles were introduced, applied in a 1: 250 000 scale soil map, under the advice of specialists of the People's Republic of China, in which the so-called "Soil Genetic Classification of Cuba" was applied 6,7.

The Cuban genetic classification was later enriched, under the advice of Soviet and French specialists, who influenced the elaboration of the Second Genetic Classification of the Soils of Cuba 8. This classification of soils replaced the obsolete Soil Series system, more understandable and better applied, obtaining a very good response in teaching, research and services.

An example is that the General Directorate of Soils and Fertilizers itself abandons the system of soil series and produces a soil map of 1:25 000 scale for the whole country, with the second genetic classification of soils.

This version was enriched by revisions and later updates, with a third version 9, in which Cuban edaphologists intervene for the first time independently. Afterwards, a fourth version presented at the International Soil Classification Conference of Alma Atá, former Soviet Union 10 is prepared.

Up to this moment, the line of soil classification in Cuba was based on the genesis of soils, that is, factors and processes of soil formation. However, in 1992 a project was prepared to "objectify" the classification of Cuban soils, horizons and characteristics of diagnoses were incorporated in relation to the factors and processes of soil formation, a project that ended in 1994, emerging "The New Version of Classification of Soils of Cuba", published in 1999 3.

As of this moment, this line of work in the Soil Institute was not systematically followed as it had been previously with the review of versions between five and eight years.

The New Soil Classification Version that incorporates horizons and diagnostic features, which are soil classification categories of the US school Soil Taxonomy 11, was recognized as the Annual Prize of the Cuban Academy of Sciences in 1994.

In the soil classification system of Cuba, edaphologists from different countries influenced; from China and former Soviet Union with the genetic bases of classification; French, with the genetic bases and the principles of soil evolution, very important for tropical soils and the North American so-called "objectification of the genetic classification of soils" by incorporating horizons and diagnostic features. However, the Cuban classification is not a copy of these schools, but represents a unique line, very original for tropical soils 12-14.

The last version was elaborated in 1994, until 2015 more than 20 years have passed, and since there are new results at an international and national level, it is necessary to update this classification.

However, from the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Alberto Hernández, in his Second Doctorate Thesis entitled "Proposal for the Classification of Soils of Cuba based on International and National Edaphological Results" 2, addresses this line of work after 20 years of developing the latest version. In his thesis work, he starts from two premises, which are a revision of the evolution and current contributions of the different classifications of soils in the World 1 and of the development of soil classification in Cuba 15.

Based on this proposal, a group of authors analyzed and perfected, during 19 work sessions, the version published in 2015 16, later presented as a Conference in the Genesis Symposium and Classification of Soils, during the last National Congress of Science of the Soil, held in Havana in June 2015.

Bases of the classification of soils of Cuba 2015

The classification takes into account a series of principles established in the Soil Classification of Russia 17, including:

  1. The principle of genesis is maintained in the classification, which is based on the fact that the interaction of soil formation factors gives rise to formation processes, which are manifested by well-defined main and secondary diagnostic horizons in the classification.

  2. The historical principle is also fulfilled, since the classification is still based on the genesis of the soils, but in relation to horizons and diagnostic characteristics. The definition of some diagnostic horizons are taken from the Soil Taxonomy; as for example the argillic, natric, histic and the mollic 11.

  3. It bases the different soils classified in the diagnostic profile, which was one of the main bases of the soil classification of Russia 17 and French Pedological Reference 18.

  4. It is also based on establishing soils that have been transformed by man either as agrogenic subtypes (by continuous cultivation) and by erosive (by erosion) and also deepens the classification of Antrosols.

  5. It takes into account the opening principle with a new Grouping (Technosols), taken from the World Reference Base 19 and new subtypes such as stilic.

  6. It also takes into account the principle of productivity, since it proposes that the classification be revised in a period no longer than 5-10 years, with the new results of research and soil mapping.

Taxonomic units

The taxonomic units that are adopted are the same as in the previous version, applying the historical principle, Grouping, Genetic Type, Subtype, Genus, Species, and Soil Variety.

Groupings: they gather types of soils that have in common the main process of formation and its degree of evolution, in relation to the interaction of the factors of formation. They are mostly defined by the main horizon that is diagnosed by its morphological characteristics and its chemical-mineralogical composition, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1 Soil clustering in relation to the formation process and the main diagnostic horizon 

Grouping Training process Main horizon
Alitic Alitization Alitic B horizon
Ferritic Ferritization B ferric horizon
Ferralitic Ferralitization B ferralitic horizon
Ferral Incomplete ferralitization B ferrral horizon
Fersialitic Fersialization B fersialitic horizon
Brown Sialitic Sialitization B sialic horizon
Humic Sialitic Humification A humified horizon
Vertisol Vertisolization A horizon or B vertic
Gleysol Gleyzation Gleyic properties
Halomorphic Salinization, Solomonization Salic or natric horizon
Fluvisol Alluvial process Fluvic propertiess
Histosol Peat accumulation Histic Horizon
Little Evolved Without defined process Without a defined main horizon
Anthrosol Anthropogenesis Anthropic horizon by action of man in agriculture
Tecnosol Anthropogenesis Anthropic horizon by man's action in technical activities

Genetic type: is the basic taxonomic unit of the classification and includes those soils that present a clear manifestation of the formation process with a similar degree of development that is defined by the main horizon and some diagnostic characteristic.

Soil subtype: in this soil classification version, following the novel principles presented in the latest version of the soil classification of Russia 17 and the French Pedological Reference 18, the soils subtype is established on the basis of diagnostic profile. This line of work is based on a series of indicators for each genetic horizon that are created according to their properties. That is to say, each subtype of soils has a profile in which it is indicated what properties it has in the A horizon, the B horizon and the C horizon. For the elaboration of the diagnostic profiles in this classification, around 1600 soil profiles were reviewed published, with their descriptions and analytical data.

In the classification the typical subtype is eliminated, appearing the haplic subtype, 19 when the soils do not have any of the main and secondary horizons or diagnostic characteristics that define them in any other subtype of soils.

Soil genus: it is determined by the nature of the source material, which gives the soil its chemical-mineralogical characteristics, whether in young soils such as Sialitic Brown or evolved as Ferralitic, Ferritic and Alitic. In addition, for the degree of saturation, and the washing of the carbonates.

Soil species: represents the main classification unit used in detailed cartography. The species are differentiated by the quantitative variations of the main properties of the genus, which are in turn the substantial indices of the genetic horizon.

The properties that define the different soil species are: the depth of the solum, the content in organic matter, content in ferruginous nodules, the degree of erosion, intensity of gleyzation, composition of salts. In the case of Histosols, it is determined by the thickness of the tissue horizon.

Soil variety: this unit is defined based on the soil texture calculated by the percentage of the fractions determined by the mechanical analysis. To determine the texture, the international textural triangle method must be followed (according to the latest Spanish version of the Soil Taxonomy classification.) In addition, the varieties are established by the skeleton (amount of gravels and stoniness).

Horizons and diagnostic characteristics

In the classification horizons and diagnostic characteristics are used. Diagnostic horizons are of two types:

  • Main horizons: they are formed by the main process of soil formation (PPFS) and it serves to classify the majority of the soil groupings. They constitute reference horizons formed by the PPFS as ferritization, alitization, ferralitization, vertisolization, gleyzation, etc. These processes are properly defined in the book "The Soil: Fundamentals of its formation, global changes and its management" 20.

  • Secondary horizons: are diagnostic horizons that can occur anywhere in the profile and are used together with the main horizons and some diagnostic feature to classify the genetic types of soils. They are defined by natural and anthropogenic secondary processes such as: formation of secondary carbonates, leaching, lateral washing of the horizon with deferrification, incipient formation of the B horizon, different degrees of decomposition of the histic horizon, differences in the intensity of humification of the A horizon, formation of ferruginous nodules (concretions or pellets), formation of petroferric blocks (lateritic armor or blocks of mocarrero), change of the properties of the soils by the continued cultivation (agronic or erogenic evolution) or by the cultivation of rice.

  • The main Horizons are: Alicyclic, Ferric, Ferralitic, Ferralic, Fersiálic, Sialic, Humid, Vertic, Salic, Natric, Histic, Anthropic, agricultural and Anthropic technician.

  • The secondary horizons are: Agrogenic, Albic, Anthracuic, Argillic, Erogenic, Calcic, Compacted, Brownish, Hydrated, Hidragric, Hific fibric, Histic mesic, Histic satic, Humic saturated, Humic desaturated, Hyperhumic, Mollic, Nodular ferruginous and Petroferric.

  • The diagnostic characteristics are: lithic contact, paralytic contact, reddish brown characteristics, red color characteristics, yellow characteristics, arénic characteristics, with variable content of carbonates, dístric, eutric, gleyic properties, static properties, vertic properties, slitic properties, fluvic properties, saline properties, sodium properties, sandy sediment, carbonate-free, underwater.

In addition, the so-called Diagnostic Materials, which up to now are: Artifacts, Ferruginous nodular transported materials, limnic materials and organic fertilizer layer are introduced in the classification as in the WRB soil classification.

Each of these classification categories (diagnostic horizons, both main and secondary, diagnostic features and diagnostic materials) have their definition, allowing their rapid identification in the field, thus allowing the philosophical conception that the "profile speaks ".

Codes for horizons and diagnostic characteristics

To prepare the diagnostic profile of each soil under study, it is necessary to establish codes for each of the aforementioned categories. In this way the following codes are presented in the classification:

For diagnostic horizons

Main Horizons:

  1. Alitic - al

  2. Ferric - frt

  3. Ferralitic - fral

  4. Ferral - frc

  5. Fersialic - frs

  6. Sialic - sial

  7. Humified - h

  8. Vertic - v

  9. Salic - sa

  10. Natric - na

  11. Histic - H

  12. Agricultural anthropic - antag

  13. Technical anthropic - antt

Secondary Horizons:

  1. Agrogenic - ag

  2. Albic - ab

  3. Antraquic - atc

  4. Argilic - t

  5. Calcic - ca

  6. Compacted - cp

  7. Hydrogenic - er

  8. Brownish - emp

  9. Hidragric - hdg

  10. Hydrated - hd

  11. Fibric tissue - Hf

  12. Sapphic tissue - Hs

  13. Histic mesic - Hm

  14. Hyperhumic h1

  15. Saturated humic - h

  16. Humic desaturated - hd

  17. Mollic - m

  18. Nodular ferruginous - nf

  19. Petroferric - ptf

Diagnostic features:

  • Gleyic properties - g

  • Static Properties - st

  • Vertic properties - (v)

  • Slitic properties - sl

  • Salt properties- (sa)

  • Arenic characteristics - r

  • Natric properties - (na)

  • With variable carbonate-k content

  • Without carbonates - nothing is put

  • Underwater - sq

Diagnostic materials:

  • Artifacts - art

  • Materials transported nodular ferruginous - mtnf

  • Limnic materials - lim

  • Organic materials- org

Other sub-indicators:

  • Plow floor - pa

  • Gravelity - gr

  • Quartzitic - q

In the classification, the system of genetic horizons is also defined (horizons A, B, C, R); the diagnosis of each one of the classification categories (horizons, characteristics and diagnostic materials) in the different genetic horizons, constitutes the preparation of the diagnostic profiles, which allow classifying the clusters, types and subtypes of soils. In other words, independently of registering the factors of soil formation in a given landscape, when the profile is opened it is necessary to see what properties it has in each genetic horizon, to conform the preliminary classification of the soil.

Examples of the classification for the grouping of ferralitic soils

In a deep red soil formed of limestone, whether in Havana, Matanzas or Ciego de Ávila, we must analyze whether the main horizon is ferralitic or ferralic. If it is ferralitic, the Bfral horizon is diagnosed. If the horizon A has a thickness of 20 cm or more, a granular structure, of reddish brown or dark red color, we expect an organic matter content equal to or greater than 4 %, then it is an Ah (humic) that surely It has a degree of saturation greater than 50 %. The diagnostic feature is red, and if it has an argillic B horizon, then it is Bt. The diagnostic profile is Ah-Btfral-C. The soil is classified as Ferralitic Red lixiviate, humic. If on the contrary this soil has been very cultivated with a red color on the surface, thick aggregates and possible or not formation of a plow, then the A is not humic but agrogenic; so the diagnostic profile is Aag-Btfral-C and is classified in this case as Red Ferralitic Lixiviate agrogenic. If this last soil profile does not have an argillic B horizon then the soil is not lixiviate, the soil falls within the Ferralitic Red genetic type and the diagnostic profile is Aag-Bfral-C and it is classified as Agrogenic Red Ferralitic subtype.

The application of this classification for the grouping of Ferrralitic soils is presented as examples below.

Grouping ferrallitic soil

Ferralitic soils are characterized by having a ferralitic B horizon that can be lixiviated or not, occurring in both plain and mountain. They are formed by the ferralitization process, under different types of rocks, but the most extensive form is limestone in flat regions.

They are of profile ABC and ABtC, of red color, red yellowish and yellowish, with capacity of cationic interchange (CIC) in clay smaller than 20 cmol kg-1 and can be eutric or dystric. Within the group, three genetic types of soils are diagnosed and classified:

  • Ferralitic Red

  • Ferralitic Red Lixiviate

  • Yellowish ferralitic lixiviate

Genetic type of soil Ferralitic Red

Red ferralitic soils are formed from limestone, in young reliefs in the plains of Havana and Matanzas. They are of ABC profile, with a ferralitic B horizon, but without leaching and with diagnostic characteristics of red color. They are usually saturated soils with pH between 6 and 7. Within the type are several subtypes, whose diagnostic profiles are shown in Table 2.

Table 2 Classification of the Subtypes of Red Ferralitic soils, with their corresponding diagnostic profiles 

Genetic type of soil Soil subtypes Diagnostic profiles
Ferralitic Red Hyperhumic FRR Ah1-Bfral-Cfral
Humic FRR Ah-Bfral-Cfral
Humic and compacted FRR Ah-Bfralcp-Cfral
Hydrated FRR A-B1fral-B21fralhd-B22fralhd-B3fralhd
Agrogenic FRR Aag-Bfral-Cfral
Agrogenic, compacted and hydrated FRR Aag-Bfralcp-Ccphd
Agrogenic and nodular ferruginous FRR Aag-Bfralnf-C
Agrogenic, hydrated and nodular ferruginous FRR Aagnf-B1fralnf-B2fralhdnf-C
FRR haplic A-Bfral-C

This type with the nine subtypes of classified soils only have two genera; eutric (has a degree of saturation by bases equal to or greater than 50%) and dystric (has a degree of saturation pro bases less than 50%)

Soil species are separated by the same indicators as for Ferritic soils; that is, by the depth, the content in organic matter, the degree of erosion and the content of concretions.

Varieties of soils are established by texture, with different variations of clay texture prevailing.

Genetic soil type Red Ferralitic lixiviate

They are ABtC soil profile, usually with weathering crust more powerful than Ferralitic red soils with a ferralitic main horizon, and argillic Bt also features red. The CIC in clay is less than 20 cmol kg-1.

Within the type numerous soil subtypes were found (10 Subtypes), which are shown in Table 3.

Table 3 Classification of the Subtypes of Red Ferralitic Soils Lixiviate with their corresponding diagnostic profiles. 

Genetic type of soil Subtypes of soils Diagnostic profiles
Ferralitic Red Lixiviate (FRRL) Hyperhumic FRRL Ah1-B2tfral- B3fral-Cfral
FRRL humic Ah-AB-B1fral-B2tfral-B3fral- Cfral Ah-Btfral-Cfral
FRRL humic, hydrated and glycemic Ah-B1fralhd-B2thd-B3hdg-C
humic FRRL desaturated Ahd-Btfral-Cfral
FRRL nodular ferruginous Ah-B1tfralnf-B2tfral-C
FRRL compacted A-Btfralcp-Cfral
FRRL arsenic Aar-ABar-Btfral-Btfral-C
Agrogenic FRRL Aag-Btfral-Cfral
FRRL agrogenic and nodular ferruginous Aag-AB-B1tfral-B2tfralnf; also Aag-B1tfralnf-B2tfralnf-BtfralCnf
FRRL agrogenic, nodular ferruginous and gleyic in depth Aagnf-B1tfralnf-B2tfralnf-B3tfralnf-Cg

Soil genera are determined based on the degree of saturation by bases (eutric or dystric) and the presence of quartz (quartzitic).

On the other hand, soil species are also diagnosed by soil indicators of the Ferralitic Red type.

For Soil Varieties there are greater differences than for Red Ferralitic soils, since they range from sandy to argillaceous.

Genetic soil type Ferralitic yellowish Lixiviate

They are yellowish Ferralitic lixiviate soils that always have ferruginous nodules, of ABtC profile, in which the yellow-yellowish color predominates, sometimes with reddish spots. They present CIC in clay smaller than 20 cmol kg-1. In Tabla 4 the corresponding soil subtypes are presented.

Table 4 Classification of the subtypes of Ferralitic yellowish lixiviate soils, with their corresponding diagnostic profiles 

Genetic type of soil Subtypes of soils Diagnostic profiles
Yellowish Ferralitic lixiviate (FRAL) FRAL humic desaturated Ahd-Btfralnf-Cfralnf
FRAL humic, nodular ferruginous gleyic Ah-Btfralnf-Cfralg or also Ahnf-Btfralnf-Cfralg
FRAL Agrogenic, nodular ferruginous and gleyic A11ag-A12nf-Btfralg-Cg or also Aag-Btfralgnf-Cnfg
FRAL arnic, nodular ferruginous and gleyic Aar-Btnf-Cgnf

The genders are determined by the degree of saturation by bases (dystric or eutric), if there are binary deposits and by the presence of quartz (quartzitic).

Species: the depth, the percentage of ferruginous nodules, the content in organic matter and the intensity of erosion (when present).

Varieties: for the texture, sandy loam predominates, loamy clayey and clayey.


  • With this version of Classification of Soils of Cuba 2015, a line of work is recovered that for 21 years has not been updated. It should be remembered that this Classification of Soils is one of the most important scientific achievements of agriculture in Cuba.

  • This version results in a Soil Taxonomy and includes innovative criteria that are currently being applied internationally.


  1. 1. The publication of this version of the classification of soils of Cuba 2015 is recommended.

  2. 2. It must be introduced in research institutions, teaching, and services, in a period not exceeding three years.

  3. 3. After its introduction, it must be approved as a soil classification version at the national level, so from that moment on it should be applied at the national level.

  4. 4. It is necessary to establish a national commission for the revision and updating of this classification of soils in a period no longer than 5-10 years.


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Received: March 15, 2017; Accepted: October 30, 2018

*Author for correspondence.

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