Nature’s Expert Witnesses: Plants Tell of Environmental Pollution

Read the press release.

The poet William Blake once wrote that we could “see a world in a grain of sand.” Today, environmental engineers are seeing the world beneath the surface through a greener part of nature: the trunks and branches of trees.

This practice of sampling and analyzing tissue from trees and other plants to determine the presence of contaminants in soil and groundwater holds promise because it gives engineers a quick, accurate and inexpensive way to measure the extent of environmental pollutants without having to dig into the ground.

Full citation for the article: Joel G. Burken, Don A. Vroblesky, Jean Christophe Balouet (2011). “Phytoforensics, Dendrochemistry, and Phytoscreening: New Green Tools for Delineating Contaminants from Past and Present.” Environmental Science & Technology 45 (15), 6218-6226. DOI: 10.1021/es2005286

Abstract: As plants evolved to be extremely proficient in mass transfer with their surroundings and survive as earth’s dominant biomass, they also accumulate and store some contaminants from surroundings, acting as passive samplers. Novel applications and analytical methods have been utilized to gain information about a wide range of contaminants in the biosphere soil, water, and air, with information available on both past (dendrochemistry) and present (phytoscreening). Collectively these sampling approaches provide rapid, cheap, ecologically friendly, and overall “green” tools termed “Phytoforensics”.


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