Uptake, translocation and accumulation of nickel and cobalt in Berkheya coddii, a ‘metal crop’ from South Africa†
Hyperaccumulator plants have the ability to efficiently concentrate metallic elements, e.g. nickel, from low-grade sources into their living biomass. Although the majority of nickel hyperaccumulator plant species restrict cobalt uptake, some species are able to co-accumulate cobalt when growing in ultramafic soils. The asteraceous perennial herb Berkheya coddii from South Africa is one of the most promising agromining crops known globally. It may accumulate nickel in excess of 30 000 μg g−1 in dry leaves, while co-accumulating up to 600 μg g−1 cobalt. This study aimed to elucidate the interactions between nickel and cobalt for uptake by and translocation into B. coddii through a pot experiment including various cobalt/nickel treatment combinations in soil, after which uptake and localisation were recorded. Cobalt in the substrate limits nickel uptake by B. coddii plants and is mainly retained in the basal leaves in contrast to Ni that is rapidly transferred to the top of the plant. B. coddii was more tolerant to high Ni concentration, whether in the substrate or internally but remains a promising crop which could be used, with suitable agronomic measures and practices, for cobalt agromining in areas with high soil cobalt but low soil nickel. A yield of 77 kg ha−1 nickel and 16.5 kg ha−1 cobalt may be attainable under optimum conditions.