Lead Tolerant Plants

Alpine Pennycress
Alpine Pennycress – Photo by Konrad Lackerbeck

Following centuries of lead mining in the North Pennines there are areas where plant life is sparse due to lead contamination of the soil.  These include areas around old smelter chimneys and former crushing and washing plants, on spoil heaps and along transport links, such as packhorse routes where ore has spilt from the loads.   Lead and other associated heavy metals are toxic to most plants but certain plant species called the metallophytes  are tolerant of lead pollution.   Look out for tricolor viola, alpine pennycress and spring sandwort growing on land associated with the former lead industry.

Viola Tricolor – Photo by Jörg Hempel

Tricolor viola, or wild pansy, grows on other soils as well, as shown by its abundance of common names – heartsease, johnny jumpup, three faces in a hood, tickle my fancy.  The flowers have long been used in herbalism for their cooling, soothing properties on inflamed skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and eczema.   Grind some of their dried flowers and mix with honey to make a balm for childhood eczema, much preferable to using steroids.

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