This species can accumulate up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned, said scientists from University of the Philippines, Los Banos. Such an amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants.

The new species called Rinorea niccolifera reflects its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts. Nickel hyperaccumulation is such a rare phenomenon with only about 0.5-1 percent of plant species native to nickel-rich soils having been recorded to exhibit the ability.

"Throughout the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait, which is still a small proportion of the estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants," said lead author professor Edwino Fernando.

The new species was discovered on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, an area known for soils rich in heavy metals.

"Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomini,'" explained Dr Augustine Doronila from University of Melbourne.

'Phytoremediation' refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils.

'Phytomining' is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites.

The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.


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