Sydney, Nov 26 Scientists have identified certain native Australian plants which can be used to clean up areas that have been devastated by man-made disasters, such as nuclear accidents or a chemical spill.
"It's a biotechnology called 'phytoremediation' and it harnesses natural plant processes to make contaminated regions safe again," said Megan Phillips, from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia.
"I'm using native Australian plants because we have strong seasonal heatwaves, nutrient-poor soils, and sporadic rainfall - a recipe for most non-native plants to struggle to survive.
"Our native plants are pre-adapted to our harsher environmental conditions and are much more likely to endure in the long term if we plant them in contaminated regions," she said.
It's already well known that plants can play an important role in land management and recovery.
Phillips cites the case of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion that resulted in radioactive fallout over a large geographical area.
Subsequent research showed that sunflowers were able to "soak up" radionuclides.
Similarly, the mustard plant can accumulate heavy metals from polluted soils.
However, there is a notable lack of knowledge when it comes to the phytoremediation potential and capability of native plants, researchers said.
"In addition to their effectiveness as a biotechnology, it's also known that plants can decontaminate areas safely, with minimal invasive disturbance to the community and native species," Phillips said.
She said it can be up to ten times cheaper to implement compared to hiring an excavator, digging out a contaminated site and moving the waste to landfill.
However, phytoremediation is used far less in Australia as a land management tool, compared to overseas counties.
"I'm hoping our work will uncover new plant species better suited to our landscapes, that are up to the task of making our contaminated areas safer for the community and wildlife alike," she added.