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In the late 1940s, Helen Cannon of the USGS conducted her famous studies on the association of plants to selenium. She used this association for detection of sedimentary uranium deposits on the Colorado plateau. Cannon demonstrated that locoweeds (Astragalus) from the Yellow Cat area of the Thompson district in eastern Utah did reflect the presence of selenium-rich uranium deposits by their colonization of the soils over the deposits.
During the subsequent 30 years, Cannon's work has repeatedly been cited as a classic example of the use of indicator geobotany in mineral exploration. During the same 30-year period, geobotanical techniques have not found wide utilization as an exploration tool. Further, Cannon's work has not been demonstrated elsewhere to any extent.
In 1980, the author returned to Yellow Cat to see what changes, if any, may have transpired at the site. We also wanted to gather insight into why geobotanical methods have not gained wider acceptance and perhaps determine why subsequent work is so rare.
Results of this study support Cannon's basic work. The results also suggest that the methods are ecologically sound and have applicability to modern mineral exploration programs. Limitations to the method are also discussed, along with some speculation as to why geobotanical methods have not seen wider application.
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