Phytoforensics—Using trees to find contamination

Fact Sheet 2017-3076



The water we drink, air we breathe, and soil we come into contact with have the potential to adversely affect our health because of contaminants in the environment. Environmental samples can characterize the extent of potential contamination, but traditional methods for collecting water, air, and soil samples below the ground (for example, well drilling or direct-push soil sampling) are expensive and time consuming. Trees are closely connected to the subsurface and sampling tree trunks can indicate subsurface pollutants, a process called phytoforensics. Scientists at the Missouri Water Science Center were among the first to use phytoforensics to screen sites for contamination before using traditional sampling methods, to guide additional sampling, and to show the large cost savings associated with tree sampling compared to traditional methods. 

Suggested Citation

Wilson, J.L., 2017, Phytoforensics—Using trees to find contamination: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2017–3076, 2 p.,

ISSN: 2327-6932 (online)

ISSN: 2327-6916 (print)

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Phytoforensics—Using trees to find contamination
Series title Fact Sheet
Series number 2017-3076
DOI 10.3133/fs20173076
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Missouri Water Science Center
Description 2 p.
Online Only (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details