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Native plant may blunt oil spill’s effects

June 29th, 2010

From Green Right Now Reports

A botanist at the Academy of Natural Sciences believes he may have a natural solution to help reduce the impact of the Gulf oil spill on the Mississippi delta: the delta bulrush.

Dr. Alfred Schuyler, who first profiled and then named the plant, says Schoenoplectus deltarum has natural properties that could be of use in diluting the effects of the spill. The Academy’s curator emeritus of botany says the detoxification properties of bulrush could be instrumental in decomposing the oil and reducing its impact on other threatened marsh plants.

Schuyler says a close relative of the delta bulrush, the common three-square (Schoenoplectus pungens), can transmit oxygen to underwater microorganisms capable of decomposing oil.

“Presumably, the closely-related delta bulrush can do the same thing,” he explains.

Abundant in the Mobile, Mississippi, and Atchafalaya deltas, plants such as the delta bulrush will be the first that the oil will encounter and may act as a buffer for the rest of the wetlands, says Schuyler.

“Bulrushes are environmental workhorses, effectively used in sewage lagoons to purify water,” he explains. “Air cavities in the stems transport oxygen to underwater portions of the plants, making the oxygen available to microbes capable of decomposing pollutants in the sewage.”

Schuyler suggests that this same capacity to decompose pollutants in sewage likely would come into play in decomposing some chemicals in the oil, thereby reducing the impact of the spill to the delta area.

“Bulrushes are also more tolerant of oil than many other marsh plants. This suggests that the delta bulrush will persist regardless of the oil and continue to stabilize the marshes in the delta,” he says.

Schuyler says it is too soon to estimate how much oil is too much for the delta bulrushes.

“I hope we don’t get to find out, but based on my experience, I think these plants can tolerate a lot of oil.”

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