Rare African plant signals diamonds lurking under the surface

The discovery has already yielded several large specimens, with prospectors hoping to find more

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The Independent Online

If a plant recently discovered in Liberia is as picky as it appears, then diamond hunters may have just had their job made much easier.

Geologists have identified Pandanus candelabrum, a thorny, palmlike plant, which seems to exclusively grow on top of columns of rock that are known to exhume diamonds.

According to one geologist, Steven Shirey, who specialises in diamond research at the Carnegie Institution for Science, it is a discovery that prospectors are going to “jump on like crazy”.

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A diamond prospector holds up an uncut stone found in Sierra Leone, Africa's diamond capital

Diamonds are formed hundreds of kilometres below the surface, as carbon is squeezed under intense temperatures and pressures.

Kimberlite pipes, vast columns of rock which extend deep into the earth, bring the gems to the surface in eruptions that sometimes rise faster than the speed of sound.

Speaking to Science Mag, Mr Shirey said that kimberlite pipes could offer countries, which have suffered through wars and Ebola epidemics, a source of income without causing large amounts of damage to the environment.

“It is about as toxic as the fertiliser in your garden,” he said.

One pipe, discovered in 2013, has already yielded four diamonds: two that are around 20-carats and another two that are a carat each.

In many incidences, the diamonds could be up to three billion years old but could also offer insights into the earth’s mantle around the time that the Atlantic Ocean was created.

Researchers from the Florida International Univeristy now have heavy machinery in place to analyse the soil, to gauge whether they should begin mining next year.

“It would probably have some interesting secrets,” Mr Shirey added.

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