I was in a forest last weekend and spent some time enjoying the texture of the forest floor - even now in the summer, it consists primarily of slowly decaying dry leaves and twigs:


I thought I had in the back of my mind a word for this substance, but I couldn't remember it. Now I think I might have been conflating the English word "loam" with the German word "Laub" which I think can mean this substance but also more generally means leaves/foliage.

Anyway, can anyone help me out? Do we have a word for it in English?

Sample usage: "the soft [Laub] rustled under her feet"


5 Answers 5


litter (and more precisely leaf litter )

In Lexico we find this:

4.1 Decomposing but recognizable leaves and other debris forming a layer on top of the soil, especially in forests.
‘the spiders live in leaf litter’

  • 3
    Wikipedia seems to prefer plant litter or litterfall, but its article includes plant litter, litterfall, leaf litter, tree litter, soil litter, and duff. Having said that, Google Books Ngram Viewer ranks leaf litter at the top in terms of commonality, and it's also the most descriptive in terms of the picture in the question. Aug 13, 2020 at 18:25
  • 1
    The Google Ngram. Aug 13, 2020 at 18:26
  • 1
    If you switch the Ngram to "English Fiction" then duff is the clear winner.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 13, 2020 at 21:19
  • 1
    This definition for duff is labeled "N. America and Scotland". It seems that, in England, duff is a type of boiled pudding.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 13, 2020 at 21:33
  • 2
    Not to mention that up the duff is slang for being pregnant, get off your duff is slang for getting off your ass, and duff is also British for worthless. So, it's not surprising that it would be at the top in the context of the fiction corpus specifically—which I had not realized existed; that's useful. Aug 13, 2020 at 23:20

That's also called duff.

Duff: the partly decayed organic matter on the forest floor. [M-W]

Or humus, perhaps?

Humus: Dark earth made of organic material such as decayed leaves and plants.

Detritus could also be used but it's broader than duff and leaf litter.

The term detritus is broadly defined as any form of non-living organic matter, including different types of plant tissues (leaf litter, dead wood, aquatic macrophytes, algae) animal tissues etc. [Detritus and decomposition in ecosystem]


The part of the forest floor that is composed of a decomposing compost of leaves is historically known (at least in England) as leaf mould, which, since it begins with an L, is most likely the term you were half-remembering.

In general, though, unless you're specifically talking about the rotting stuff, go with forest floor, or @decapitated-soul's suggestion of detritus.


Where there isn't soil in the forests of the Pacific Northwest it's called muskeg

Muskeg (noun) A North American swamp or bog consisting of a mixture of water and partly dead vegetation, frequently covered by a layer of sphagnum or other mosses.


There is mast which refers to beech nut husks, acorns etc. Lexico has


The fruit of beech, oak, chestnut, and other forest trees, especially as food for pigs.

Here is a typical picture of beech mast.

enter image description here

Alamy stock photo

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