In the Command & Conquer series of games, there is a mythical 'plant' life called Tiberium. It ends up being of alien origin through the course of the games, but its role in the game is as a harvest-able resource.

Tiberium has an interesting property that I'd like to explore; it leaches minerals from the soil and manifests those minerals as crystalline formations, similar to flowers, on the surface part of the plant. The idea is that the crystals can be harvested simply and refined into their base forms for minimal expense, in theory a lot cheaper than mining.

So; the question becomes can a plant reach deep enough into the soil to leach minerals in industrial quantities? If so, what type of crystalline formation would make it easy to refine those minerals (or ore flowers, etc.) into useful products?

I would imagine that for this to be viable, the plant would have to be able to handle some serious mineral and metal transport, and that the roots would ideally have to reach very deeply indeed, making such a plant quite large, but I'm not convinced this that such a plant could exist in an area that would make the harvesting viable at an industrial scale, but happy to be convinced otherwise.

Of course, if this would only be possible for certain types of minerals or metals, that would be useful to know as well.

I plan to ask a couple of follow up questions if this one takes off; part 2 would be about the impact on the soil, whether or not these plants would be sustainable. Part 3 will explore the potential toxicity of such a plant (as per the game), but for now I'm curious as to whether such a plant could exist at all, what it would look like / how it would work, and what types of minerals and metals it could extract and in what quantities.

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    $\begingroup$ Battle-control online $\endgroup$ – Qami Sep 19 '18 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ Some plants, e.g. Tamarix and some mangroves, are know for their ability to excrete salt. Salt is a mineral. "[Tamarix species] are able to limit competition from other plants by taking up salt from deep ground water, accumulating it in their foliage, and from there depositing it in the surface soil where it builds up concentrations temporarily detrimental to some plants." (Wikipedia) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 19 '18 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP that sounds like the start of a good answer to me, and even covers some of the Part 2 idea relating to sustainability of the soil. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Sep 19 '18 at 2:05

There already is,in fact, a real life equivalent of what you described caled phytomining,although nowdays it is used more in mining rejects.
In the process the plants are seeded in an area intended to be mined and after they are growth the plants are harversted and processed. The greath advantage of this method is that the plants generaly have a higher concentration of the desired mineral than common ore usually have,also they are generaly easier to process and are more eco-friendly. About mineral leeching ,it would possibly require some genetic engineering and or a lot of artificial selection but there are a lot of plants that are suitable for the process.
Some links for reference:


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