Unusual plant points to diamonds beneath the ground, researcher finds

Unusual plant points
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] rare discovery by an FIU geologist could radically change diamond prospecting worldwide.
Researcher Stephen Haggerty recently embarked on a field trip to search for a long-elusive kimberlite pipe in the dense bush of northwestern Liberia. Kimberlite pipes are concealed geological structures that serve as the primary source of the world’s commercial diamond production. They form as a result of violent eruptions of certain types of volcanoes.

Haggerty first searched for this particular kimberlite pipe in the late 1970s and 1980s, but civil wars stalled his efforts. He returned in 2013, finally discovering exactly what he was looking for. And something else he did not expect. Rising out of the ground above the kimberlite pipe was a Pendanus candelabrum, an unusual plant known to locals as pamaya. The palmlike plant with its aerial roots and spiny fronds was growing in the chemically unique soil directly above the pipe.

Subsequent exploration by foot, vehicle and air shows that the pamaya plant only seems to grow in areas where the diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes are present — making these plants the first and only known botanical indicator for these diamond areas, Haggerty said.

“We don’t know if this plant can grow anywhere else where there aren’t kimberlite pipes present. It’s too early to tell,” said Haggerty, who also is the chief exploration officer of Youssef Diamond Mining Company. “The roots of the plant are typical of swampy areas, but for Liberia, it appears to be kimberlite-specific.”

The discovery in Liberia could change the dynamics of diamond exploration worldwide by providing a natural and easily identifiable marker for the locations of diamond-rich deposits. It could become the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly form of prospecting in West Africa.

Haggerty’s findings will be published in the June-July edition of Economic Geology.

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