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I want to suggest to a gardener to plant trees for reducing pollution and poisonous gases emitted from a factory. Which species is preferable to plant in the area around the factory?

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Carbon dioxide probably isn't a pollutant to worry about at a local level, though it's certainly still a good question from a global perspective. At a local level, blocking of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, soot, or other common unhealthy pollutants is probably more relevant. Perhaps you could split this into 2 separate questions? – Highly Irregular Apr 18 '13 at 8:14

10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I was curious about which trees absorb the most CO2 and Googled for this a while back. I found that there are several websites that list trees that are good in absorbing carbon, e.g. this website and this website. Both sites list trees like:

  • Pine (Ponderosa, red, white and Hispaniolan pines)
  • Oake (Scarlet, Red and Virginia Live Oak)
  • Douglas fir
  • Bald Cypress
  • Common Horse-chestnut
  • Black Walnut
  • London Plane
  • American Sweetgum

However, there is one site1 that has an entirely different list:

  • Trembesi a.k.a rain tree (Samanea saman)
  • Bamboo (Bambuseae)
  • Cassia (Cassia sp)
  • Cananga/Kenanga (Canangium odoratum)
  • Pingku (Dysoxylum excelsum)
  • Banyan/Beringin (Ficus benyamina)
  • Krey Payung (Fellicium decipiens)
  • Matoa (Pometia pinnata)
  • Mahogany (Swettiana mahagoni)
  • Saga (Adenanthera pavonina)

As also mentioned by theUg and Blue_hat in their comments below, the first list probably applies to temperate climates, and the second one to tropical climates.

Note that for good sustainability you will have to consider more things than simply the amount of CO2 a tree can absorb.

First of all not all trees grow in all places. The tree you have in mind should be appropriate for the region and climate. If you have to water it, add fertilizer regularly or package it during cold winters to survive, etc. then it will be less sustainable. If the factory does indeed exhaust poisonous(?) gases as you said, then trees may not grow at all near it.

Second, think about what will you do with the trees once they are mature. If you harvest them and plant new trees then you can capture more CO2. But if let the tree fall down and rot or if you burn wood from harvested trees, then the captured CO2 will be released again.

1 update Jan 2015: sadly the link has died, but I found the same list in this forum post along with some statistics on how much CO2 the trees take up

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thanks a lot it gives me so many choices – Yadav Chetan Apr 18 '13 at 10:24
The different lists could be for different regions, as you hinted upon. For instance, tropical list could be just for respective areal, but it also could mean the best absorbing plant species on the planet. However, the first list could be more useful in temperate climes. – theUg Apr 22 '13 at 0:10
I noticed the second list you posted is for totally different regions than the first. The first is more Temperate and the second is Tropical. Now, as far as I'm concerned that raises another question, which types are more efficient in absorbing CO2? – Blue_Hat Jan 4 '14 at 2:03

Basic chemistry here. Plants consume carbon dioxide and water to produce glucose. They then polymerize the glucose to create cellulose. In general, the amount of biomass that a tree produces is dependent on its net carbon uptake. If all you are trying to do is ensure that you take some CO2 out of the air, you want to plant fast-growing trees, ideally which are harder than softer.

Edit: one more thing to keep in mind: particulates.

One of the best things that trees are good at is removing particulates from the air, particularly if you have frequent rain. The particulates stick to the leaves and are washed off by rain. This is actually a function of the leaves since it means that trees get to catch floating sources of nutrients (for example, animals grinding dung into dust that then ends up in the wind). So one of your most effective reasons to plant around factories is to reduce particulate pollution.

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Bamboos come to mind (fast-growing and harder). – Nate Apr 21 '13 at 10:50

The factory will pollute much more than can be undone by planting trees (up to a reasonable number). Any approach that reduces the pollution of the factory will be more effective than planting trees as counter-measure.

It is true, however, that, say, a forest around the factory would help clean the air and absorb much of the pollution, so that planting trees is always a good idea, of course.

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Trees absorb carbon dioxide to grow and build biomass. If you want to absorb much CO2 you need a tree that grows fast at your local conditions - consult with your gardener about that.

Note that this will not solve problems with other pollutants, and will only put a rather symbolic dent into wordwide CO2 emissions.

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yeah thats the main criteria to think – Yadav Chetan Apr 18 '13 at 10:25
One person's actions aren't going to put more than a symbolic dent into a worldwide problem, but one person's pollution didn't contribute more than a token amount to the problem in the first place. So, that's not really the right standard to hold an alternative to. – Nate Apr 21 '13 at 10:53
That kind of thinking exampled in the second paragraph prevents people to contributing anything. Why do micro-transactions are popular these days? Because they are easy for the consumer, yet they add up for the provider. Who’s to say carbon-offset micro-transactions do not add up as well? – theUg Apr 22 '13 at 0:14
Some poplars grow huge fast. Redwoods grow huge, but don't plant them near houses or sidewalks (yes, you can buy redwoods). – Shule Oct 21 '14 at 3:07

Gingko Biloba has high pollution tolerance! (speaking from a biology perspective, it's also my favorite)

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Welcome to Sustainable Living! Could you elaborate on this? Do you also know if it can absorb a lot of CO2, relatively speaking? – THelper Jan 3 '14 at 16:10
Hi Sarah. That isn't actually the question that was asked. Do you have information not on how well it tolerates pollution, but whether (and how well) it reduces it? – Simon W Oct 8 '14 at 11:39

Plant bamboo. Its also an excellent biofuel. Pines and evergreens collect pollutants on their leaves/spines/firs but are unable to drop them and assist in decomposition. this is why the bottom of a pine forest is always devoid of other plants. Bamboo is an excellent "growth" plant in terms of CO2 absorption as well as allowing pollutants to biodegrade within the lower level detritus.

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I do not understand why nobody says that in order to capture CO2 you need your trees to grow forever? Do you understand that, once tree dies, it is digested by microorganisms, which means that all accumulated C is released back in the process of such decay?

The photosynthesis process of growing tree is to take CO2 from the air + water H2O from the soil and convert into the biomass, the carbon C + hydrogen H2 + free oxigen O2. The biomass of the plant is C+H and, because H weights nothing, it is mostly carbon C. The wood contains energy because C+H tends to re-join with O2, as electrons on one pole of the battery want to re-join with protons on the other. Basically, the wood is a battery. Burning the wood, you close the circuit. This can drive some mechanisms or animals moving. This is what happens when tree dies. It effectively burns, C + H + oxigen O2 -> CO2 + water H2O. This is because CO2 is more stable than C + O2 alone and C eventually reunites with the oxigen. This is opposite to what you want. So, when you grow a deep forest, you capture some carbon from the air. Once it dies (whether naturally or you cut it will go rotten ultimately even if you do not burn it immediately), the process goes backwards and tree (C) will look for the free oxigen to restore the CO2 you wanted to "consume". The net effect is 0. The forest does release as much CO2 as it consumes.

The idiocity of the proposed solution is immense. Consider other problems. Imagine the pristine Earth - everything is covered by green forests. The new trees in the forest consume exactly as much CO2 as there is emitted by dying ones. I have explained that there is a dynamical balance - CO2 stays at constant level in the air. Now, you come with your "industry" and start burning (c)oil deposits from under the ground. How do you think the trees will consume your extra CO2?

Certainly, you can prevent the tree decomposition by conserving the grown ups. But this is stupid: you'll need to care about the storage (waste labour, energy and other resources to mantain it) and, secondly, growing plants depletes the soil. If you store the trees instead of letting them composted in the place where they are grown, your soil will loose fertility after a couple of generations. Nothing will grow on your soil after a while. Is it what you want?

You could plant more trees but all the surface of the planet is green already (remember, the planet was as green as it can be when people appeared on the Earth)! Furthermore, every year your "factory" emits additional CO2 so that you need a constantly increasing forest lands! You have no place for the forests to start with but you need infinitely more! Do you see the problem? Where do you take the lands from? Are you going to be sustainable by sacrificing the biodiversity, replacing original plants with ones recommended here? What do kill to compensate your next year emissions?

Next, it must be considered how stupid it is to consider curing the harmful effects of your economy, based on the insustainable idea of consumption (cars and private houses) to burn fossil fuels. You cannot be sustainable as long as you consume the oil at such pace. Remember, the largest consumer of the oil is not your factory, it is your car (that you need for your individual house). I have explained the only way our civilization can operate sustainably.

It means that you need to give up your private house with polished loan, give up your car and migrate into a large city. This would free a lot of space from the cottages for the forests and cut the oil losses orders of magnitude. Without this measure, all talks about CO2 is a self-delusion.

Identically, you do not want to emit the poisonous gas in the first place. It is stupid to accumulate the poisonous gas in the plants because you will contaminate the soil, you will get the contaminated plants, which you will need to store somewhere (storage will cost you additionally wasted labour, fossil fuels and more poisoned air and soils), you will get the soils depleted with minerals or rich with poisons and, moreover, you suggest that you will breeze the poisoned air yourself. Sounds as a good rational plan? That is not sustainable. Stop driving your car.

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This is a very good point that I would be upvoting, were it not a wall of text that is mostly invective. I think the main point (that CO2 absorbed by trees is only sequestered until they die) could be made in one paragraph. – Simon W Oct 8 '14 at 11:41

Well, I know the question is more about outdoor plants (Trees) but I found a Wiki page on NASA's study about Indoor plants, which help remove toxic agents like benzene, ammonia etc. from air. NASA Clean Air Study has the details.

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Short and sweet answer is Bamboo and plants from that family. You can also reuse them as sustainable fuel.

Avoid the conifer and pines as they kill everything that lives beneath them due to toxified leaf (in their case needle) litter.

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Do you have any links to further explanations or research? What's you've posted is very light on detail. – Mσᶎ Jul 29 at 8:39

some useful suggestions here. i think understanding how it all started is important in finding the right solution to today's emission problem.

if we go back in time when the planet was inhospitable. all the early living organisms that came into existence eventual died and became trapped somewhere underground cos the planet was unstable at that time. in time they become fossil fuel loaded with Carbon and Hydrogen. this was ideal because all the excess CO2 was removed from the atmosphere (early living organisms on the planet were different from what we are today). anyway, this cooled the planet and it became more hospitable for our kind to thrive and flourish.

but in the last couple of centuries, human found an ingenious way to release all that CO2 trapped in the fossil fuel back into the atmosphere. so if we do not reverse this trend, then we will be the next store of fossil fuel for a different kind of life form on the planet. planting trees definitely helps, but its hardly the global solution we need. more research into harvesting hydrogen and using it as a substitute will be the solution i feel. if not we have to find ways to trap CO2 underground somehow. the kyoto protocol was a good global response, but nobody gives a damn.

recently, i was in the maldives. from the air, the horizon is no longer the picture perfect destination that travel brochures sell. for hundreds of miles all around, i could only see haze. its sad. the blue skies we were used to seeing as a child will be just a myth to our children and grandchildren.

check this out

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Hi phuntsho, Welcome to Sustainability.SE. Thanks for your answer, but downvoted it because it does not appear to answer the question. This is a Q&A site rather than a discussion forum,so we do like answers to specifically address what is asked. – Simon W Apr 18 '14 at 14:08

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