Metal-Eating Plant Discovered, and It's Already at Risk
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A bee flies from plant to plant while feeding on a flowering Anigozanthus, also known as Kangaroo Paws, at a nursery in San Gabriel, California on March 25, 2013.
A sailing ship is visible on the Bodensee lake near Ueberlingen, Germany, on May 1, 2013. Flowers at the lakeside are visible in the front.
Visitors enjoy watching the Blue Nemophila flowers bloom during the Golden Week holidays, at Hitachinaka Kaihin Park on May 5, 2013 in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, Japan.
A field of tulips at Magdeburg Börde in Schwaneberg, Germany, on May 3, 2013. Different species of the spring flowers are grown on more than 40 hectars.
A visitor looks at blooms at the Rhododendron Park in Bremen, Germany, on May 10, 2013. Nature is catching up after the unusually long winter. One effect is that rhododendrons normally bloom in succession, but now all of the flowers are blooming at once.
Villagers trim the tulip blossoms at a planting base in Qushui County, Lhasa City, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, May 9, 2013. The seed bulbs of tulip flowers were introduced into Lhasa from Yunnan Province.
Blossoms of a peach tree are visible in a garden in Eichwalde, Germany, on April 29, 2013.
A bee approaches cherry tree blossoms during a sunny spring day at a park in Brussels on April 14, 2013.
A woman meditates under a blooming cherry tree on the edge of the Potomace river in Washington D.C., on April 9, 2013.
A bee sits on a blooming Japanese cherry tree at the castle gardens in Schwetzingen, Germany, on April 15, 2013.
Different colored pansies are grown at a nursery near Kitzingen, Germany, 26 March 2013.
The sun shines through a blooming syringa bush in Berlin, Germany, on May 12, 2013.
The Guinness Book of World Records this spring certified this wisteria vine -- blooming at a Sierra Madre home on March 14, 2013, near Los Angeles -- as the world's largest blossoming plant. The wisteria vine is more than one acre in size and weighs 250 tons. It has more than 1.5 million blossoms every year with 40 blooms per square foot. The branches of this wisteria vine reach an 500 feet long. Horticultural experts have estimated the branches can grow 24 inches in 24 hours. The wisteria vine is a Chinese variety. It was planted in 1894 by William and Alice Brugman.
Blossoms of a Magnolia tree are visible on a sunny day with a clear blue sky in Dresden, Germany, 26 April 2013.
A bee seeks nectar on a ceanothus shrub at the Fullerton Arboretum in California.
White flowers on branches of the North American Cornus 'Florida', Flowering Dogwood.
A recently discovered, yet already endangered, plant devours nickel from the soil of Luzon Island in the Philippines. Metal-munching plants could clean up pollution and even mine minerals from the soil.
The newly described Rinorea niccolifera plant accumulates nickel in its leaves at levels from 7, 000 to 18, 400 parts per million. This 8-meter-tall plant grows in nickel-rich soils that cover less than 500 square kilometers of Luzon Island.
Nickel and other minerals also attract people who strip-mine the area. Because of the mining threat to the plant’s tiny, fragmented range, botanists regard the plant as endangered under the Red List ranking system of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The botanists, led by University of the Philippines researchers, described the nickel-loving plant in the journal PhytoKeys.
The nickel-absorbing shrub is a type of plant known as a hyperaccumulator. These plants absorb higher amounts of heavy metals from the soil than most other plants.
Long-term or high-level exposure to heavy metals, such as nickel, cadmium and zinc, can cause health problems in people. Crops can absorb the metals from contaminated soils and store the toxins in edible portions, warned the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Cleansing metal-laden farm soils carries a heavy price tag. Commercial demand exists for the minerals, but traditional mining from soil is inefficient.
Hyperaccumulator plants could be an inexpensive way to vacuum heavy metals from potential farmland, in a process known as phytoremediation. After harvest, chemists could extract the metals from leaves and shoots.
Photo: Rinorea niccolifera. Credit: Edwino S. Fernando