Do Trees Need Probiotics Too?

Most of us wouldn’t dispute the benefits of trees to human life—oxygen, fruits and nuts, paper, wood, and housing just to name a few. They even help us pull pollutants from soil, and researchers are exploring ways to eco-consciously benefit from trees’ ability to do this through their natural cycle, as well as increase the pace and effectiveness of this pollutant-pulling process.

The ability of trees to remove pollutants from soil and then degrade them is not new to land and water clean-up industries. In some cities, smaller-scaled projects have utilized the benefits of this process, and now researchers have identified a potentially effective probiotic that may help trees perform this cleansing cycle. This process, called phytoremediation, is also beneficial because it breaks down the many toxins that plants introduce when they pull moisture from groundwater that is contaminated. These toxins and pollutants have long been very expensive to remedy using standard methods like pumping toxins from beneath the ground or using an excavating process.

The industry is particularly excited about this probiotic enhancement option because it lowers costs, which makes it more feasible for manufacturers to practice more environmentally-safe methods. Researchers have been part of a large-scale project using poplar trees that they fortified with a probiotic to clean up groundwater that has been tested and confirmed for trichloroethylene or TCE. This ubiquitous pollutant is common in industrial areas and harms the human body when taken in through water sources or even breathed in from the air.

Phytoremediation often compromises trees’ health—common signs include yellowed leaves, wilting branches, and stunted growth. The process is even fatal for some trees. The probiotic inclusion testing has resulted in trees’ growth and longevity, and groundwater samples taken from an area downstream of the test trees’ site confirmed markedly lower toxin levels in comparison to higher-level groundwater nearby.

Several companies are interested in this research and resulting environmental advances, and land-owners, individual and corporate, may soon find safe clean-up options to be much more affordable.