Indicator plant

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Species or communities that can act as a measure of environmental conditions are referred to as bioindicators or indicator species. Plants which indicate some specific conditions of environment are called indicator plants or phytoindicators.

Fungi and bacteria[edit]

  1. Fungi are used to monitor of oil pollution. Scolecobasidium, Mortierella, Humicola, and Verticillum are able to utilize waste oil.[1][2]
  2. Bacteria like Pseudomonas, Clostridium, and Streptococcus are used in assessment (estimation) and prediction of changes in marine environment induced by human activities. Pseudomonas metabolizes oil and converts into harmless end product as CO2 and H2O.


Indicators of radioactive particles[edit]

Lichen thalli are capable of absorbing SO2 and Pb.[3][4] Lichens are also utilized for survey of long life radionuclides like strontium (90Sr) and cesium (137Cs) released from nuclear explosions.

Sensitivity to air pollution[edit]

Lichens can thus be used as reliable biological indicators of pollution. Lecanora conizaeoides is the most tolerant of all lichens to SO2, and it therefore grows in cities also.[5] Lichens are therefore used as pollution monitors.


  1. Ulva, Enteromorpha are used in monitoring the water quality of estuaries (the tidal mouth of a large river).
  2. Heavy metal pollution of water is monitored by Cladophora and Stigeoclonium.
  3. Chlorella is used to monitor toxic substances in water.
  4. Dunaliella tertiolecta, Cyclotella cryptic, and Pavlova lutheri[6] are indicators of oil pollution.
  5. Cyanobacteria like Nostoc, Microscopium, Hapalosiphon welwitschii are the indicators of soil pesticides as dithane, deltan, BHC, aldrex, rogor.[7]

Higher plants[edit]

Useful knowledge can be obtained about land by observation of the wild plants and cover crops that are growing, and their condition. These include indicating fertility levels and potential nutrient deficiencies, waterlogging or compaction problems, pH levels and so on. When assessing land by observation of indicator species however it is good practice to observe plant communities or consistent populations of indicator species rather than individual specimens which may not be typical. Perennial weeds which may have colonised an area for some time are also a more reliable form of indicator than annual weeds which may have only been there for that year and thus indicate a temporary condition.

Potential productivity of land[edit]

Forest serve as good indicators of land productivity. For example- vegetative growth of trees like Quercus marilandica, Q. stellata are comparatively poor on lowland or sterile sandy soil than the normal soil in which they grow under conditions.


Evergreen forests indicate high rainfall in winter as well as summer; Sclerophyllous vegetation indicate heavy rainfall in winter and low during summer; Grassland indicate heavy rains during summer and low during winter; Xerophytic vegetation indicate a very low or no rainfall in the year.

Soil characteristics[edit]

Luxuriant (abundant) growth of some taller and deeply rooted legumes like Psoralea indicates a sandy loam type of soil, whereas the presence of grasses Andropogon indicates sandy soil. Rumex acetosella indicates an acid grassland soil, whereas Spermacoce stricta the iron rich soil in the area. Shorea robusta, Cassia obtusifolia, Geranium sp.. and Impatiens sp.. indicate proper aeration of soil.


Some plants as Agrostis, Epilobium, Pium, Populus, Pteris, and Pyronema dominate in areas destroyed by fires. Particular species of Pteridium indicate burnt and highly disturbed coniferous forests.


Plants like Utricularia, Chara, and Wolffia grow in polluted waters. Bacteria like E. coli also indicate water pollution. The presence of diatoms in water indicates pollution by sewage. Dandelion can indicate trace metal pollution[8]


Some plants may indicate the presence of characteristics minerals in the soils, theses plants are called obligatory metallophytes. Equisetum sp. is known to be associated with gold mineralization.[9]

Viral infection[edit]

Plant species will respond differentially to the presence of viruses due to variation in susceptibility. This can cause differences in observable symptoms as well as the magnitude of those symptoms. For instance, a plant may harbor a viral infection and show no observable symptoms yet still be negatively affected. Therefore, some plant species become useful as indicators because their symptoms will develop at a faster rate, are more obvious, or are more consistent for diagnosis. Common techniques of transferring a viral infection from a suspected plant to an indicator plant include grafting or sap transmission. However, ELISA testing, related serological tests, and direct electron microscope observation of viruses are more modern methods for detection.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Microbial Changes during Oil Decomposition in Soil". Holarctic Ecology. 2 (3): 195–200. 1979. Retrieved 2017-06-27. 
  2. ^ Ndimele, P.E. (2010-12-01). "A Review on the Phytoremediation of Petroleum Hydrocarbon". Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences. Science Alert. 13 (15): 715–722. ISSN 1028-8880. doi:10.3923/pjbs.2010.715.722. 
  3. ^ Lawrey, James D.; Hale, Mason E. (1981). "Retrospective Study of Lichen Lead Accumulation in the Northeastern United States". The Bryologist. JSTOR. 84 (4): 449. ISSN 0007-2745. doi:10.2307/3242552. 
  4. ^ "Lichen website". Pollution and lichens. 2010-07-06. Retrieved 2017-06-27. 
  5. ^ Hauck, Markus; Otto, Philipp I.; Dittrich, Sebastian; Jacob, Mascha; Bade, Claudia; Dörfler, Inken; Leuschner, Christoph (2011). "Small increase in sub-stratum pH causes the dieback of one of Europe's most common lichens, Lecanora conizaeoides". Annals of Botany. Oxford University Press (OUP). 108 (2): 359–366. ISSN 1095-8290. doi:10.1093/aob/mcr136. 
  6. ^ "Pavlova lutheri (Droop) J.C.Green :: Algaebase". Algaebase. 2016-01-16. Retrieved 2017-06-27. 
  7. ^ B.K. Sharma. "Soil & noise pollution". 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Brooks, R.R.; Holzbecher, J.; Ryan, D.E. (1981). "Horsetails (equisetum) as indirect indicators of gold mineralization". Journal of Geochemical Exploration. Elsevier BV. 16 (1): 21–26. ISSN 0375-6742. doi:10.1016/0375-6742(81)90122-9.