A peculiar tree species that is renown for its curious magnetic properties and is often used as a natural alternative source for mining various metals such as nickel. Discovery George Agragore, mineralogist, was said to notice that the pins he would use to post his papers on his corkboards would often disappear when he left them on the ground. He soon found said pins would find themselves drawn to the roots of these particular trees. After consulting the local farmers, they extracted the sap and pulp of these trees to find they had significant amounts of metals particularly nickel, leading to the name. He shifted his research to exploring the nature of these tree magnetic properties, discovering the first metallophyte.
A medium sized tree, ashy off-white or brown bark and green leaves. The sap within the tree is a neon green hinting at the presence of metallic material inside.
The Nickel Bark is a metallophyte, a plant adapted to habitats with toxic levels of heavy metals. It is able to extract metals from the soil, primarily nickel into itself which is generally stored in its trunk and sap, though metal can also be found in its leaves. What makes it most interesting is that the amount of nickel within the plant can still retain some of its ferromagnetism. Thus the Nickel Bark itself can actually become a ferromagnetic plant, though it depends on how much metal it has leeched from the soil. It does this by being a hyperaccumulator of mostly nickel, along with lower amounts of cobalt. The metal is stored within its tree trunk and sap, along with the veins in its leaves. The high concentration of metal within deters many herbivores from eating it.
Genetics and Reproduction
The nickel bark flower structure indicates that this species is usually pollinated by moths.
Ecology and Habitats
Found throughout Nusantara islands, particularly in soils near abandoned mines. They thrive there where other plant species fail, likely due to the metallic pollutants. However this tree has adapted to the harsh conditions of this environment.
Uses, Products & Exploitation
They have lead to the technology known as phytoremediation which is a cost-effective, plant-based approach to remediation that takes advantage of the ability of plants to concentrate elements and compounds from the environment and metabolize various molecules in their tissues. These plants are of interest for their ability to extract metals from the soils of contaminated sites to return the ecosystem to a less toxic state. As the plants can grow in soils near abandoned mines, they can potentially remove the large amounts of heavy metals and make the area more suitable for grow other plant life in the future. Related to this the related technology of phytomining or agromining, where the Nickel Bark and other metallophytes are used to mine metals from soils with very high concentrations by growing the plants, then harvesting them for the metals in their tissues. A number of related tropical Phyllanthus-species have the potential to be used as ‘metal crops’ in agromining operations mainly because of their ease in cultivation and their ability to attain high nickel concentrations and biomass yields. This unique merge of farming and mining has recently become a new industry for individuals living on the tropical island. It is a growing method of meeting the worlds increasing need for metals without relying on mining efforts that pollute the areas mined or leech pollutants into the soil and groundwater. Also because of how magnetic they are, a Nickel Bark twig can effectively used as a natural compass when placed on a leaf in the water, not unlike a steel pin.
Geographic Origin and Distribution
The Nickel Bark's range is mainly within the Nusantara archipelago of the Zomia Tropics