Unravelling the Black Panther secret plant – first evidence of radio-hyperaccumulators in the plant kingdom



The tiny nation of Wakanda is well-known mostly for its advanced technology, thanks to the large deposits of the extraterrestrial element, known as vibranium. Although still not entirely understood, it is believed to be a superactinide, a relatively stable, but still radioactive element.  Because of its radioactivity, it is known to cause mutations and significantly altered the local flora and fauna, including the world-famous heart-shaped herb. It is best known for its health effects when consumed, but the biology of this Wakanda endemic plant seems to be even more intriguing than its ethnopharmacology. The current paper summarizes the known aspects of the heart-shaped herb metabolic features.

Taxonomical status, native range and physical description

Both the phenotypic features and recent genetic evidence place the heart-shaped herb into the Convolvulaceae family, also known as morning glories. Phylogenetic analyses, exploiting ITS regions and chloroplast genome sequencing found it to be closely related to Ipomoea involucrata P. Beauv. Therefore, in 2017 a consensus name was chosen – Ipomoea wakandii Shuri, or Wakandan morning glory, as it was first described scientifically by princess Shuri of the Wakandan Desing Group.

The Wakandan morning glory was discovered relatively late for the global botanic society, although it was long-known among the local population. Its range is extremely limited to several small spots in the vicinity of the Vibranium deposits in Wakanda and several attempts to cultivate it outside this range proved unsuccessful. Chemical analysis of the soil showed, that the concentration of Vibranium in these particular spots exceeds 10 000 mg kg-1 soil, and growth of the Wakandan morning glory is generally arrested if Vibranium concentrations dropped below 3 000 mg kg-1, which is a deadly concentration for most plants.

Moreover, to this date, it is one of only a few plants on Earth, known to be able to grow in complete darkness. Therefore, in addition to its nearly miraculous health effects, it draws scientific attention with its biology.

Similarly to most morning glories, Ipomoea wakandii is a creeping vine with simple, heart-shaped leaves, and generally bigger than the leaves of other representatives of the genus (Fig. 1). Flowers are also enormous, funnel-shaped, and reaching over 40 cm in length and 20 cm in diameter. Both the leaves and the flowers contain high concentrations of ergoline alkaloids, mostly ergonovine and ergine, similarly to other morning glories. They possess hallucinogenic properties, widely used in the ethnobotanical usage of the Wakandan morning glory. According to some reports, the psychedelic effects extend to hallucinations of long-dead relatives.

Figure 1. General appearance of Ipomoea wakandii and the structure of vibranioglobin.

Vibranium hyperaccumulation – mechanisms and physiological adaptations

The first and most logical explanation for the restricted distribution of the Wakandan morning glory was that it is somehow related to the vibranium. The first studies in this direction showed, that the concentration of vibranium in leaves is up to 15-20 g kg-1 dry weight, and reached the ridiculous 200 g kg-1 dry weight in the flowers. Thus, for the first time, a radioactivity-hyperaccumulating plant was discovered.

Interestingly, however, any attempts to prove the involvement of phytochelatins, the most common metal chelators, utilized by plants, in the process of vibranium accumulation were unsuccessful, and no such were found in significant concentrations. The miraculous vibranium-binding molecule was shown to be a very different compound, actually a protein, very similar to human hemoglobin. A monomeric member of the globin family, later called vibranioglobin (Fig. 1), is responsible for the catching of vibranium in the roots and its transfer through the xylem vascular system, mostly to the flowers. Instead of iron, the vibranioglobin tightly binds vibranium in the porphyrin ring, which is not suitable for further oxygen binding. Thus, this globin molecule is continuously synthesized in the roots, extracts vibranium, and accumulates it in the flowers.

Even more interesting, the roots of Ipomoea wakandii also contain a sensor molecule, homologous to phytochromatins, which is switched on by ionizing radiation instead of red light and is responsible for the positive tropism toward vibranium deposits.

The next unexpected finding was the exact function of vibranium in plant metabolism. While most heavy metal hyperaccumulators do this in order to safely isolate the toxic elements into their vacuoles, Ipomoea wakandii actually makes use of the radioactive element. It possesses flowers with completely altered functions, in which the pistil has lost its reproductive function and serves as the main storage compartment for vibranioglobin. Therefore, the Wakandan morning glory reproduces exclusively by vegetative propagation. The pistil of the flowers continuously emits radioluminescence in the blue spectrum, which is efficiently captured and used for photosynthesis by the photosynthetic machinery of the leaves. In such a way, this incredible plant is able to thrive under complete darkness in the caves, where the highest concentrations of vibranium in the soil are found. This is also the reason why the pistil is consumed in particular cases, as it possesses a strong anti-cancer activity, but is also highly dangerous in higher amounts.


  • Coogler R. 2018. Black Panther. Walt Disney Studios.
  • Coogler R. 2023. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Walt Disney Studios.
  • Lee S., Kirby J. 1966-ongoing. Black Panther. Marvel Comics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *