Mechanistic evaluation of biochar potential for plant growth promotion and alleviation of chromium-induced phytotoxicity in Ficus elastica
The potential of biochar to enhance phytorestoration of hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)]-contaminated soils was investigated. Rooted cuttings of Ficus elastica Roxb. Ex Hornem were transplanted to soil treated with 0 or 25 mg kg−1 Cr(VI), ‒Cr and +Cr designations respectively, and amended with cattle manure-derived biochar at 0, 10 and 50 g kg−1. Plants were grown for 180 d in a temperature-controlled greenhouse. In the ‒Cr treatment, biochar addition enhanced plant growth without affecting plant water status, leaf nutrient levels, photochemical efficiency, or hormone levels. In the absence of biochar, Ficus growth in the +Cr treatment was stunted, exhibiting decreased leaf and root relative water content and photochemical efficiency. Adding biochar to +Cr soil resulted in decreased Cr uptake into plant tissues and alleviated the toxic effects of soil Cr(VI) on plant growth and physiology, including decreased leaf lipid peroxidation. High-resolution electron microscopy and spectroscopy elucidated the biochar role in decreasing Cr mobility, bioavailability, and phytotoxicity. Spectroscopic evidence is suggestive that biochar mediated the reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III), which was subsequently incorporated into organomineral agglomerates formed at biochar surfaces. The dual function of biochar in improving F. elastica performance and detoxifying Cr(VI) demonstrates that biochar holds much potential for enhancing phytorestoration of Cr(VI)-contaminated soils.