Charcoal and activated carbon as adsorbate of phytotoxic compounds

Tom Miles

Charcoal and activated carbon as adsorbate of phytotoxic compounds


This study compares the potential of natural charcoal from Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) and activated carbon to improve germination under the hypothesis that natural charcoal adsorbs phytotoxins produced by dwarf-shrubs, but due to it's chemical properties to a lesser extent than activated carbon. Activated carbon has been used in many bioassays as an adsorbate to clean aqueous solutions.

We used aqueous extracts from young leaves of Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull and Vaccinium myrtillus (L.) as phytotoxin sources in two different concentrations (10 and 14 gr. of dried leaves in 100 ml distilled water). Germination of pine seeds was prevented by the higher concentration of both species, while the lower ones did not show significantly reduced germination. Both ericaceous species showed a very similar potential to prevent germination of Scots pine seeds.

Supplemented carbon (activated carbon, powdered or granulated pine charcoal) restored germination in strong extracts. Adding activated carbon resulted in germination of almost 100%. With pine charcoals added, lower germination percentages were observed. The charcoal powder was more effective (60% for C. vulgaris; 28% for V. myrtillus) than the charcoal granulate (30% and 16%, respectively) in restoring germination.

Chemical and surface analysis of the three carbon supplements revealed that activated carbon had by far the biggest active surface area (641 m2 g−1), and thus many more cavities to bind phytotoxins than natural charcoal (total surface area of 142 m2 g−1).

We conclude, that charcoal produced by forest fires can have a positive effect on seed germination, but to a much lesser extent than activated carbon. Previous studies, which used activated carbon as an equivalent for charcoal, overestimated the effect of charcoal on germination.

DOI: 10.1111/j.0030-1299.2005.13482.x