The plant that only grows near diamonds

There is a certain sort of exotic mythos that’s grown up around diamond mining and the diamond, and a lot of that is thanks to the marketing campaigns of De Beers. They made diamonds the stone to have, which has turned diamond mining a rather cutthroat operation. Science no says there’s a weird little trick to finding diamond-rich soils.

Just look at for a plant called Pandanus candelabrum.

The palm-like plant apparently prefers soil rich in kimberlite – a type of igneous rock that forms in the Eart’s crust in huge vertical columns. These kimberlite pipes, as they’re known, reach deep into the mantle and are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions that can push diamonds hundreds of miles up to the Earth’s surface. Although geologists have long known that where there’s kimberlite, there are often diamonds, now – thanks to Pandanus candelabrum – there’s an easy way of finding the kimberlite too.

The discovery of Pandanus candelabrum’s expensive taste was made in Liberia by Florida International University researcher Stephen Haggerty, who published his finding in a paper in Economic Geology .

Haggerty, who is also chief exploration officer of Youssef Diamond Mining Company (YDMC), with concessions in Liberia, believes the plant has adapted to kimberlite soils, which are rich in magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.

The scientist, who has worked in the African nation off and on since the late 1970s, has in recent years focused his prospecting efforts in the northwest part of Liberia.

Haggerty tells Science, who first reported the story, that he thinks the plant adapted to grow phosphorus. These combine to create what is essentially a “very good fertilizer,” says Haggerty. It certainly seems to make for a healthy diet, with Pandanus candelabrum growing up to 10 meters tall on an above-ground root system similar to that of mangrove trees.

Haggerty adds that even though the plant’s presence indicates that there’s kimberlite in the ground, this doesn’t guarantee that there’ll be diamonds as well. Kimberlite pipes are rare to begin with, and of the roughly 6,000 examples known in the world, only around 600 contain diamonds. Of these, only 60 or so contain enough gems to be worth mining.

According to his bio, posted at FIU’s website, he is currently conducting wide-ranging research, which includes from field activities in Brazil, India, South Africa, and West Africa (finger printing “Blood Diamonds”), “to the cosmos, pre-solar diamonds (greater than 4.5 billion years old), and the enigmatic origin of black and porous carbonado-diamond.”

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