A Rare Plant Might Transform How We Find Diamonds

A rare plant could serve as a signpost for diamond indicator kimberlite, which might eventually lead to easier, less expensive diamond exploration, according to a new paper.

The plant, Pendanus candelabrum, has a “marked affinity for kimberlite pipes,” writes Stephen E. Haggerty, a distinguished research professor in geosciences at Florida International University, in the June–July edition of the journal Economic Geology. 

Explorers have traditionally looked for a variety of indicator minerals to find kimberlite pipes. Those minerals then have to be tested by labs. But explorers could possibly track a plant from the air, making diamond searching less expensive and more efficient.

This would not be unique, as Haggerty’s paper notes that plants have been used since medieval times to find copper in Sweden.

One caveat: Pendanus candelabrum is only found in tropical areas, and diamonds are not. World-class mines have been discovered in bitter-cold regions in Siberia and Canada.

Still, the new discovery might pave the way toward finding new botanical indicators for kimberlites, Haggerty tells JCK.

“Because of the depths at which kimberlites originate, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that their chemistry has to be different from the surrounding rocks,” he says. “So let us take a look at the vegetation, particularly in Arctic terrains. There is flowering in the spring and during the summer.”

“Kimberlite has very high potassium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Because of those nutrients, plants growing in kimberlites will be on steroids, whereas those on sandstone will be stunted or barren. So enhanced growth of surrounding vegetation may be a characteristic.”

Haggerty was uncomfortable with some press coverage of his paper, including headlines such as “There’s a Plant That Shows You Where Diamonds Are Buried.”

He stresses that finding a kimberlite pipe does not mean you have found a profitable mine. Only 1 percent of kimberlite pipe discoveries result in economic diamond mines.

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JCK News Director