Phytoremediation of petroleum hydrocarbons in tropical coastal soils: I. Selection of promising woody plants

Wenhao H. Sun, Joey B. Lo, Françoise M. Robert, Chittaranjan Ray, Chung Shih Tang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Goal, Scope and Background. This glasshouse study is aimed at evaluating tropical plants for phytoremediation of petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated saline sandy subsurface soils. Tropical plants were selected for their ability to tolerate high salinity and remove No. 2 diesel fuel in coastal topsoil prior to further investigation of the phytoremediation feasibility in deep contaminated soils. The residual petroleum-hydrocarbon contaminant at the John Rogers Tank Farm site, a former petroleum storage facility, at Hickam Air Force Base, Honolulu, Hawaii, is located in a coastal area. It lies below a layer of silt in the subsurface, in loamy sand characterized by moderate salinity and high pH. Little is known regarding the ability of tropical plants to remediate petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated subsurface soil in Hawaiian and other Pacific Island ecosystems although suitable plants have been identified and utilized for bioremediation in surface soil or marine sediments. Methods. The experiments were conducted in long narrow pots under glasshouse conditions in two phases. A preliminary experiment was done with nine tropical plants: kiawe (Prosopis pallida), milo (Thespesia populnea), common ironwood (Casuarina equisetifolia), kou (Cordia subcordata), tropical coral tree (Erythrina variegata), false sandalwood (Myoporum sandwicense), beach naupaka (Scaevola sericea), oleander (Nerium oleander), and buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris). These plants were screened for resistance to high salinity treatment (2% NaCl) and two diesel fuel levels (5 and 10 g No. 2 diesel fuel/kg soil) in separate treatments. Plants that showed good tolerance of both factors were further evaluated in a second phase for their efficacy in the phytoremediation of diesel-fuel petroleum hydrocarbons under moderate salinity treatment (1% NaCl). Results. Tropical coral tree and buffelgrass were susceptible to either 2% NaCl or diesel fuel at 10 g/kg soil, but tolerant of diesel fuel at 5 g/kg soil. Kiawe, milo, kou, common ironwood, N. oleander, beach naupaka and false sandalwood were tolerant of high salinity (2% NaCl) or high diesel fuel level (10 g/kg soil). These seven plants were also tolerant of the combined adverse effects of a moderate salinity (1% NaCl) and 10 g diesel fuel/kg soil. Three trees, kiawe, milo and kou significantly accelerated the degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil spiked with 10 g diesel fuel/kg soil under a moderate salinity treatment (1% NaCl). Conclusion. Thus the tropical woody plants, kiawe, milo and kou showed potential for use in phytoremediation of petroleum hydrocarbons in coastal tropical soils. Recommendations and Outlook. Two fast growing trees, milo and kou, appeared promising for further phytoremediation evaluation in experiments that simulate the soil profile at the field site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Coast
  • Contamination
  • Diesel
  • Hawaii
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons
  • Phytoremediation
  • Salt tolerance
  • Subsurface
  • Tropical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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