Phytomining Future Found in the Philippines?

Rinorea niccolifera

This photo shows the newly described metal-eating plant, Rinorea nic­co­lif­era. Photo: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando.

Say hello to Rinorea nic­co­lif­era, described in the open-access journal PhytoKeys. The leaves of the plant are spe­cial. Like a few other plants around the world, R. nic­co­lif­era is a ‘hyper­nick­elo­phore’. In simple English, if you were to exam­ine a gramme of a dry leaf, 7,168 to 18,388 μg would be Nickel. That’s around 1%. The dis­cover­ers, Edwino S. Fernando, Marilyn O. Quimado and Augustine I. Doronila note that’s around the same as Rinorea ben­ga­len­sis which shows that Rinorea has pretty much worked out how to live in high-Nickel environoments.

That’s inter­est­ing, not so much for where the plants are, but for where they could be. Phytomining and phytore­medi­ation are ideas that plants could be used to mine or clean pol­luted areas by accu­mu­lat­ing metals. The plants draw up the metals into the leaves and then you har­vest and extract them, till an area is cleaned up.

It’s not going to hap­pen overnight, you can’t simply drop these plants into trouble spots and leave them to work. There’ll need to be care­ful breed­ing or genetic modi­fic­a­tion, but recent research on Alysseae shows that metal-tolerance is some­thing plants can pick up or drop as they need. Other research shows that cal­cium could be a prob­lem for plants pick­ing up cobalt and nickel, but adding some sul­phur to a site could help fix that.

Usually when people think of plant tech­no­logy, it’s about crop grow­ing or phar­ma­ceut­ical applic­a­tions. There’s also poten­tial for plants to take over some indus­trial pro­cesses. Somewhere in the genes of Rinorea is a poten­tial gold mine. (If you plant it over gold)


Fernando E., Quimado M. & Doronila A. (2014). Rinorea nic­co­lif­era (Violaceae), a new, nickel-hyperaccumulating spe­cies from Luzon Island, Philippines, PhytoKeys, 37 1–13. DOI:

Cecchi L., Gabbrielli R., Arnetoli M., Gonnelli C., Hasko A. & Selvi F. (2010). Evolutionary lin­eages of nickel hyper­ac­cu­mu­la­tion and sys­tem­at­ics in European Alysseae (Brassicaceae): evid­ence from nrDNA sequence data, Annals of Botany, 106 (5) 751–767. DOI:

Robinson B. Soil Amendments Affecting Nickel and Cobalt Uptake by Berkheya cod­dii: Potential Use for Phytomining and Phytoremediation, Annals of Botany, 84 (6) 689–694. DOI:


Rinorea nic­co­lif­era. Photo by Dr. Edwino S. Fernando. This image licensed under a Creative Commons by licence.

Alun Salt. ORCID 0000-0002-1261-4283

When he's not the web developer for AoB Blog, Alun Salt researches something that could be mistaken for the archaeology of science. His current research is about whether there's such a thing as scientific heritage and if there is how would you recognise it?

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