UK Experts Identify Air Pollution Absorbing ‘Super Plant’ to Reduce Carbon

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Fighting climate change with nature? Experts in the UK have identified what they are calling a “super plant” that can absorb greater amounts of air pollution as a way to reduce carbon emissions made by vehicles.

‘Super plant’ can reduce air pollution by 20 percent

Experts in the UK say a “super plant” known as Franchet’s cotoneaster is at least 20 percent more effective at soaking up air pollution than other shrubs. It can be planted along roadsides to absorb carbon emissions from vehicles, The Guardian reported.

Scientists at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) looked at the effectiveness of hedges for soaking up air pollution, comparing different types of shrubs including cotoneaster, hawthorn and western red cedar.

The findings were reported in a new science paper published by the RHS, which found Franchet’s cotoneaster proving to be 20 percent more effective than other plants. The natural habitat of the plant is in the Yunnan province of China, but it can grow in other parts of the world.

Strategic planting may reduce impact of air pollution

As part of the study, researchers found that strategically planting air pollution-absorbing shrubs next to roadways can reduce carbon emissions.

“On major city roads with heavy traffic we’ve found that the species with more complex denser canopies, rough and hairy-leaves such as cotoneaster were the most effective,” said Dr. Tijana Blanusa, principal horticultural scientists for the RHS and the lead researcher for the study. “We know that in just seven days a one metre length of well-managed dense hedge will mop up the same amount of pollution that a car emits over a 500 mile drive.”

“We estimate the Cotoneaster franchetii traps 20% more emissions than other hedges we have tested so would be ideal along busy roads in pollution hot spots,” Dr. Blanusa added. “For other areas where encouraging biodiversity and pollinators is key, a mix of different hedge species would be recommended.”

Air pollution largest environmental risk in UK

The report declared that air pollution was the largest environmental risk to UK public health, affecting 33 percent of the population. In London, the risk is even greater, affecting 59 percent of the population.

In addition to reducing the impact of carbon emissions with the cotoneaster, researchers are identifying other “super plants” and finding other ways to use nature to help both the environment and wildlife.

“RHS science has shown that underlying traits of certain plant species and cultivars, such as leaf shape and root features, help alleviate numerous environmental issues,” says Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS Director of Science and Collections. “We are continually identifying new ‘super plants’ with unique qualities which when combined with other vegetation provide enhanced benefits while providing much needed habitats for wildlife.”

“We’ve found, for example, that ivy wall-cover excels at cooling buildings and hawthorn and privet help ease intense summer rainfalls and reduce localized flooding,” Griffiths points out. “If planted in gardens and green spaces where these environmental issues are most prevalent we could make a big difference in mitigating against and adapting to climate change.”