Organic matter (or organic material) is matter that has come from a recently living organism.
Soil organic matter[change | change source]
Soil is composed of minerals and organic matter, as well as living organisms. The organic matter in soil comes from plants and animals. In a forest, for example, leaf litter and woody material falls to the forest floor. This is sometimes called organic material. When it decays to the point it is no longer recognizable it is called soil organic matter. When the organic matter has broken down into a stable humic substances that resist further decomposition it is called humus. 
Vitalism[change | change source]
The equation of "organic" with living organisms comes from the now-abandoned idea of vitalism that attributed a special force to life that alone could create organic substances. This idea was first questioned after the abiotic synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828.
Footnotes[change | change source]
- Thus soil organic matter comprises all of the organic matter in the soil exclusive of the undecayed material (http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/glossary.html).