Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 10, Issue 5, pp 335–340

Heavy metals in plants and phytoremediation

A State-of-the-Art Report with Special Reference to Literature Published in Chinese Journals
Review Article


Goal, Scope and Background

In some cases, soil, water and food are heavily polluted by heavy metals in China. To use plants to remediate heavy metal pollution would be an effective technique in pollution control. The accumulation of heavy metals in plants and die role of plants in removing pollutants should be understood in order to implement phytoremediation, which makes use of plants to extract, transfer and stabilize heavy metals from soil and water.


The information has been compiled from Chinese publications stemming mostly from the last decade, to show the research results on heavy metals in plants and the role of plants in controlling heavy metal pollution, and to provide a general outlook of phytoremediation in China. Related references from scientific journals and university journals are searched and summarized in sections concerning the accumulation of heavy metals in plants, plants for heavy metal purification and phytoremediation techniques.

Results and Discussion

Plants can take up heavy metals by their roots, or even via their stems and leaves, and accumulate them in their organs. Plants take up elements selectively. Accumulation and distribution of heavy metals in the plant depends on the plant species, element species, chemical and bioavailiability, redox, pH, cation exchange capacity, dissolved oxygen, temperature and secretion of roots.

Plants are employed in the decontamination of heavy metals from polluted water and have demonstrated high performances in treating mineral tailing water and industrial effluents. The purification capacity of heavy metals by plants are affected by several factors, such as the concentration of the heavy metals, species of elements, plant species, exposure duration, temperature and pH.


Phytoremediation, which makes use of vegetation to remove, detoxify, or stabilize persistent pollutants, is a green and environmentally-friendly tool for cleaning polluted soil and water. The advantage of high biomass productive and easy disposal makes plants most useful to remediate heavy metals on site.

Recommendations and Outlook

Based on knowledge of the heavy metal accumulation in plants, it is possible to select those species of crops and pasturage herbs, which accumulate fewer heavy metals, for food cultivation and fodder for animals; and to select those hyperaccumulation species for extracting heavy metals from soil and water. Studies on the mechanisms and application of hyperaccumulation are necessary in China for developing phytoremediation.


Accumulation constructed wetland distribution phytoextraction phytofiltration phytostabilization phyto-volatilization purification soil wastewater 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Hydrobiology, The Chinese Academy of SciencesState Key Lab of Freshwater Ecology and BiotechnologyWuhanP.R. China
  2. 2.Institute of BotanyUniversity of CologneKoelnGermany

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