Skip to main content

These are the best trees for carbon sequestration

Cities typically don’t have a lot of green space. If you live in a major city, there may be some parks, but concrete has overrun nature. Of course, ever since humans stopped being hunter-gatherers and became an agrarian society, we’ve cleared away forests to make room for crops. Eventually, that translated into clearing away space to build cities.

As humans built, the natural landscape decreased, sometimes dangerously so in certain areas. However, greenery has begun making a comeback as people realize the importance of trees to the environment. It comes down to the fact that if humans want to live on Earth, ensuring we have healthy, vibrant forests is necessary, which includes carefully crafting green spaces within our cities so we can live more symbiotically with the natural world.

But, why exactly are trees so vital to our existence? The truth is that trees are a tool the Earth uses to absorb and store carbon dioxide. As you probably know, carbon dioxide is one of the primary greenhouse gasses, which can cause heat to become trapped near the Earth’s surface. In other words, the gas contributes to a rise in global temperatures.

Cityscape with green space
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is carbon sequestration?

All plants and animals on Earth are carbon-based life forms. We all need carbon to exist. The amount of the element on our planet remains constant, but its form changes and moves about. Certain things, such as volcanic eruptions, can transform carbon that exists below the Earth’s surface into carbon dioxide. The gas absorbs infrared radiation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and traps heat beneath it, as mentioned above.

Some scientists are working to bring carbon dioxide atmospheric levels down. One solution for this is called “terrestrial sequestration,” which involves planting trees. Because trees absorb carbon dioxide during their lifecycle and the carbon is stored within the tree’s wood, the plant acts as a trap for the gas. In essence, the tree has “sequestered” carbon dioxide.

Which trees should you plant?

Even though all trees use carbon dioxide, some are more effective than others. Moreover, there are even trees that can actually do more harm than good, since they emit other harmful compounds. For example, the willow, oak, and poplar trees all emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), forming ozone. According to the Scientific American, that ozone has been linked to “asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.”

On the other hand, there are trees you should consider planting. Here are some helpful things to think about when making your choice:

  • Disease resistant, low-maintenance species do better without fertilizers and equipment that produce greenhouse gasses.
  • Species native to your region do best in your local soil as they’re a natural part of your regional ecosystem.
  • Trees that have wide crowns and large leaves engage in more photosynthesis than others.
  • More carbon is absorbed and stored for longer periods in trees that are long-lived.
  • Trees that grow quickly absorb more carbon and store it faster within their first few decades of life.

Consider planting these tree species

There are no single “best tree species.” Every region has a species that suits it best. Most parks will contain examples of local trees that do well in your climate.

With that said, a few of the best trees for carbon sequestration are the following:

  • Pine trees work pretty well. In fact, out of all conifers, they store carbon most effectively.
  • In northern regions, consider planting the blue spruce.
  • The horse chestnut tree is well-adapted to city life. It has a broad canopy that adds shade in addition to its carbon dioxide capturing abilities.
  • Another excellent choice for a city’s green space is the London planetree. It has the added benefit of being resistant to the cold and disease.
  • Two smaller trees that can store an immense amount of carbon for their size are the black walnut and dogwood.

Parent and child walking in a green space

Where are trees needed most?

Trees are most needed in urban settings. Of course, humans need to stop destroying forests, but if left alone, many of these will grow back and replenish themselves over time. Trees won’t grow naturally in cities unless people plan spaces for them. Remember that the benefit of having trees in urban settings goes beyond the absorption of carbon dioxide. They also provide habitats for wildlife and improve the air’s quality.

Also, consider planting trees in your neighborhood and community. Every effort makes an impact. Even a small effect is better than none. Remember that in the end, we’re all stewards of the planet on which we live, and by planting in your community you can set an example for neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family.

Editors' Recommendations

Will Blesch
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Will Blesch is a copywriter, content writer, and someone passionate about anything that lets him discover more about this…
These food waste apps will help you save money – and the planet
Try these apps to help reduce food waste and save the environment
Fresh vegetables with a knife on a wooden surface

According to RTS.com, 40% of the food supply in the U.S. is wasted. That means nearly half of all food in the U.S. ends up in a landfill instead of being eaten. It's even more devastating to consider when there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who struggle to bring enough food home to feed their families. While these numbers may feel overwhelming, there are now apps aimed at reducing the amount of waste and redistributing it to those in need. Whether you're hoping to reduce your own food waste by passing your excess on to your neighbors or looking to pick up a grocery store's surplus, these food waste apps will be a big help to you and the environment. 

The best food waste apps
There are several food waste apps out there now, and not all do the same thing. Some are on the consumer end and offer reduced prices on overstocked food items. This means buying items that will soon be out of date or food that restaurants would throw out. Others focus on getting food to those in need, whether that's through monetary or food donations. These apps are a fantastic way for almost anyone to make a difference.

Read more
These are the 18 best gardening shows to stream right now
No matter your streaming service, there's a gardening show just for you
Family sitting on a couch watching tv.

Whether you're an expert or novice gardener, you might find yourself in need of inspiration to get your green thumb into shape come next gardening season. As it turns out, sometimes the best way to get your gardening mojo back is to watch TV shows that showcase extraordinary gardening.

Finding the right show can be daunting, though. There are so many options across every streaming platform and channel, how do you know where to start? We've compiled our favorite gardening shows from across the internet, so that you can sit back, relax, and get inspired! No matter what type of gardening show you're looking for, there's something on this list for everyone.

Read more
The best vegetables to plant in November
Tips on which vegetables to grow when the temperatures drop
Pumpkin on a vine

Some vegetables are more suited to be grown in cooler months than others. It all depends on their growing conditions and the kind of environments that they prefer. When you’re planting vegetables during late fall or early winter, the chances are you’re planting them in an insular setting — be it in a greenhouse or in your home. These are a few ideal vegetables to plant in November, but there are many others beyond them if these aren’t up your alley.

Rhubarb
Growing rhubarb in containers during the winter is possible, so long as you have a large enough pot to accommodate the plant. With rhubarb, depth is more important than width (depending on how many you want per pot) because of its large root system. You want to make sure that you select pots or containers that are sturdy, have good drainage, and are at least 20 inches deep. To the same effect, the soil should be designed for good draining to avoid drowning or rotting the plant. A healthy rhubarb could live and produce for up to 10 years if you play your hand right.

Read more