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The role of plants as indicator for air pollution

Muhammad Mahadi. Environmental Science Discipline. Khulna University.

Mobile No : 008801717838118

Introduction: A plant is used to indicate air quality and locate sources of air pollution
utilizing known as air “Pollution Indicator Plant.” Indicator plants containing a series of
chambers, where the particulate matter and chemicals have been removed by a series of filters.
Bio-indicator plants are very sensitive to a selected (toxic) chemical, they respond quickly with
typical visible foliar symptoms to the presence of medium-to-low levels of the noxious agent;
they are very cost-effective and represent a striking visual demonstration unit. The category of
plants as a indicator of air pollution are discussed below:
1. Lichen(Parmelia Orthotrichum, Polytrichum)
2. Algae( Chlamydomonas, Chlorella, Chlorococcum, Chlorosarcina)
3. Moss Tillandsia usneoides,Sphagnum, Bryum
4. Herbs and grasses
5. Tulsi
6. Tobacco
7. Lettuce plants
1. Lichen (Parmelia): For nearly 25 years that lichen growth and health can assess many air
pollutants and the value of these living organisms rather than man-made instruments for
assessing sulfur dioxide levels is that they are inexpensive and give quick results. Lichens are
especially useful in forestry to assess where conifers should be planted since conifers are
affected by the same sulfur dioxide levels that cause lichen cover to decline. The possibility
of transplanting healthy lichens into areas suspected of being polluted, and monitoring
physiological parameters such as respiration and photosynthesis, to give a rapid indication of
pollution levels is obvious.

Lichen vegetation could assess air pollution levels was supported by Fenton (1960) while
Trass (1971) was able to correlated a mean annual sulfur dioxide (SO2) value with his lichen
index "P" to cover sulfur dioxide levels from less than 10 to 300 mg/m 3.
2. Algae: Aerial or sub-aerial algae would also be ideal as indicators of air pollution because of
ease of handling, range of species specific sensitivity which is greater than in higher plants
and much quicker physiological responses to air chemistry than occur in high plants. Many
of the cortecolous, lithophilous and epiphytic algae, liverworts, fern gametophytes are ideally
suited as air biological monitoring organisms. Using both pollution tolerant and pollution
sensitive species would be best for air quality indication.
Especially suitable as test organisms in the Air Biomonitor are the microalgae found in both
aerial and subaerial habitats such as species of Chlamydomonas, Chlorella, Chlorococcum,
Chlorosarcina, Chlorosarcinopsis, Gloeocystis, Chlorhormidium Pleurococcus,Stichococcus,
Trebouxia, Chroococcus, Gloeocapsa, Nostoc, Oscillatoria, Schizothrix, and Scytonema and
the diatoms- Navicula and Nitzschia.

1 | Page
The role of plants as indicator for air pollution
Muhammad Mahadi. Environmental Science Discipline. Khulna University.
Mobile No : 008801717838118
3. Moss (Tillandsia): Tillandsia usneoides is an indicator species to air pollution, that its
decline is directly related to raised levels of air pollution, and that the most acidic pollutants
are the most harmful. Air pollutants are absorbed by Spanish moss. An experiment was
formulated with two stages: the first, stage involved taking air samples in Houston and
testing for the quantity of specific pollutants using a gas chromatograph and the second stage
was putting Spanish moss in an Environmental Study Chamber (ESC), which is a closed
system, and exposing it to the pollutants found in the air samples.

Tillandsia usneoides, commonly called Spanish moss, is a relative of the pineapple (order
Bromeliales, family Bromeliaceae, genus Tillandsia (air plant), and species usneoides)
(Spanish moss). In fact, it is an epiphyte, a plant that gains all of its moisture and nutrients
from the air (Arny). The thin trichomes (scales) that cover the whole plant, these trichomes
play an important role in the absorption of moisture and nutrients from the air. The trachomas
act as pumps, and draw moisture and dissolved minerals into the plants through the stomata
(Arny). This indicates that whatever is present in the air—including pollutants—will be
absorbed by the plants.

4. Herbs and grasses: Changes in sensitive species of herbs and grasses occur much earlier
than in shrub and tree populations. Generally, the degree of ‘Crown die-back’ and death of
trees is directly related to the level of SO2, NO2 HF and HCl pollution of air.
5. Tulsi: Tulsi is sensitive to pollution and a minor change in pollution level is also been
detected by this plant. Certain visual observations on the plant supported our prediction that
Tulsi can be used as effective bioindicator for autoexhaust pollution. Tulsi act as bio-
indicator for determing the increased level of nitrogen and sulphur status in atmosphere.
6. Tobacco: Biomonitoring of ozone with tobacco is miniaturized kit based on tobacco
seedlings (Nicotiana tabacum L.) cultivars Bel-W3 (O3-supersensitive) and Bel-B (O3-
resistant). The biomonitoring units consisted of polystyrene tissue-culture plates with wells
filled with organic compost; each well held a 10-day-old tobacco seedling, raised in a
controlled environment.
7. Lettuce plants: Lettuce plants as bioaccumulations of trace elements Homogeneous adult
lettuce plants, Lactuca sativa raised in a greenhouse were exposed to ambient air in 15 dm3
containers at nine stations and regularly provided with water until field capacity.

Plant species Reported sensitivity to pollutants

Tobacco O3
Beans O3, So2
Squash O3, So2
Water melon O3
Tomato O3
Lichens O3, So2, Nox

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The role of plants as indicator for air pollution
Muhammad Mahadi. Environmental Science Discipline. Khulna University.
Mobile No : 008801717838118

Table: Plant bio-indicators for determining the presence of air pollutants

Conclusion: The rate of accumulation of air pollutants in the lichen, moss, tobacco, tulsi or
algal plants can be determined by means such as biomass decrease or increase per unit time,
pigment analysis, rate of respiration or photosynthesis and heavy metal or isotope accumulation.


2. K C Agarwal. ‘Environmental Pollution Causes, Effects and Control’. 2001.
3. G K Ghosh. ‘Environmental Pollution ¾ Scientific Dimension’. 1992, New Delhi




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