Nickel-accumulating plants from the ancient serpentine soils of Cuba



Extraordinary uptake of nickel (Ni), reaching concentrations of 0.1–5.0%, c. 1000 times greater than those usually found in flowering plants, has been observed previously in c, 190 species that grow on Ni-rich serpentine soils derived from ultramafic rocks in various parts of the world. These so-called hyperaccumulators of Ni include c. 50 species from the rich ultramafic flora of New Caledonia and c. 80 species from the Brassicaceae of Mediterranean Europe and Turkey. A study of a limited part (the families Buxaceae and Euphorbiaceae) of the very large ultramafic flora of Cuba has now identified this as the home of at least 80 hyperaccumulators, the largest number jet found in any one country. The more frequent incidence here of this unusual form of plant behaviour is linked to the very long period (r. 10–30 million years) during which some of the Cuban ultramafic substrata are believed to have been continuously available for colonization; the distribution of Ni hyperaccumulators between older and younger ultrarnafic soils in Cuba mirrors the overall incidence of endemic species in these areas.