In the search for buried gold, Eucalyptus trees may lead the way

Scott Sutherland

Money may not grow on trees, but according to researchers in Australia gold does. They've discovered tiny amounts of gold in the leaves of eucalyptus trees, which may help them find deep deposits of the valuable ore.

The discovery here isn't the gold itself, since scientists have been finding tiny gold particles in eucalyptus leaves for some time. However, they weren't sure about where the gold was coming from. It could have been deposited on the surface of the leaves, after being blown there as dust on the wind. However, it may have been deposited there by the tree itself, after the gold particles were drawn in from the deep water sources that the trees tap into. If it was just there from the wind, that's not much use to mining companies, but if it's from deep down, it could point the way to new deposits.

To find the answer, the researchers took samples from the trees where particles were found, and then compared them with samples from trees 800 metres away, to see if proximity to a gold deposit was a factor. They also ran a controlled experiment in a greenhouse, by planting eucalyptus trees both in soil with gold particles in it and in soil without.

Study lead author Dr. Mel Lintern, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), discusses the discovery in this video:

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As for keeping them (or anyone else) from just stripping every Eucalyptus tree they find for the gold inside, it all comes down to return on investment. The cost in labour and equipment just wouldn't support the effort to get that tiny amount back.

According to what Dr. Lintern told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet: "The amount of gold in the trees is extremely small. You would need 500 trees or more growing over a gold deposit to have enough gold to make a ring."

(Photo courtesy: Dr. Mel Lintern)

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