Sampling soil and extracting rocks aren’t the only way to find and mine mineral deposits!
Even back in ancient times, people recognized that certain types of plants are good indicators of hidden treasures below, but recently, companies and researchers have been studying ways to use this to help us discover and extract mineral resources.
Plants recieve all of their nutrients from the water and soil. When there is an abundance of metals in the soil due to the presence of a nearby mineral deposit, the plant will absorb some of these metal into its roots, leaves, flowers and other tissues. Certain plants, called hyperaccumulators, will actually preferentially absorb certain metals into their tissues, such that they will have a higher concentration of metals than the surrouding plants and soils. In fact, some plants have recently been discovered in a remote mining district in Indonesia to be such good hyperaccumulators that they actually “bleed” nickel-rich sap!
Material like bark, sap, leaves, and roots from hyperaccumulators can be tested for metal content to help exploration geologists find deeply buried minerals. These plants can even be planted near currently operating or former mine sites to help remediate the land and remove toxic metals from the soils.