MAY 29, 2015 3:49 AM PDT

Diamonds Are a Plant's Best Friend

In television commercials at Christmas and Valentine's Day, it's all about the diamonds. Every store wants to lure the customer in to sell them a precious piece of Earth like no other. Well, does anyone consider that diamonds don't actually come from the mall?
Pandalus Candelabrum could be an indicator of diamond-rich soil
Before all the velvet boxes and spot lighting however, the diamonds have to be found in the Earth, sometimes having taken millions of years to form. Geologists invest thousands of hours of research trying to predict where large deposits of diamonds could be hiding. And now it might be easier. In Liberia, on Africa's west coast, a geologist has uncovered something that could revolutionize the world of diamond prospecting.

Stephen Haggerty, is a geologist from Florida International University in Miami and also the chief exploration officer of Youssef Diamond Mining Company in Liberia has documented that the plant Pandanus candelabrum, which resembles a palm tree in some ways, but is also quite thorny, seems to grow only on top of an ore producing rock. In this case, it's kimberlite pipes, which are long cylinders of ancient volcanic rock.

These massive pipes were formed when underground eruptions brought diamonds up from deep in the mantle of the Earth's crust. As the kimberlite goes, so go the diamonds.
How did Haggerty come across this connection of plant to pipe? In an article published in Science Magazine, Haggerty related that he has worked in the west of Africa for quite some time, recently paying particular attention to finding kimberlite by using steel rods to dredge the depths of swampy jungle areas. The pipes are extremely rare, but in 2013 his perseverance paid off and he located a large kimberlite pipe. Sure enough, the candelabrum plants were growing like weeds above it. Enlisting the help of botanists from the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, in the UK, and Saint Louis's Missouri Botanical Garden, they were able to identify the plant preliminarily as pandanus candelabrum, however the team is unsure if the Liberian plants are a subspecies or perhaps even an entirely new species. What is certain though is that if this plant truly is only found on areas above kimberlite, a whole new diamond rush could begin.

Haggerty told Science magazine, "It sounds like a very good fertilizer, which it is," noting that the soil above the pipes have heavy deposits of phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. In his interview with Science Magazine, Haggerty said that he knows there is another kimberlite pipe about 30 miles south of the Camp Alpha location where he made his discovery, and that area also has large amounts of the plant growing above the mineral pipes.

The soil above the pipe that Haggerty uncovered has given up four diamonds so far, two of them a whopping 20 carats and the other two at about one carat each.
Haggerty is now awaiting the end of the rainy season to examine large soil samples at Camp Alpha. He hopes to do more research to see how the plant and the soil pass nutrients back and forth and will also investigate whether or not the plant can be found via aerial or satellite surveillance. His paper on the discovery is published in the June-July issue of the journal Economic Geology.

Sources: Science Magazine, YouTube, Wikipedia
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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