Planting trees is a powerful strategy to help combat pollution. Trees act as natural air filters, absorbing pollutants like carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, while releasing clean oxygen into the atmosphere. Our recommended tree list highlights varieties that are particularly strong in three areas of pollution:

Removing air pollution particulates (PM2.5)

PM2.5 air particulates are those fine, miniscule particulates found in car exhausts, for example. These are dangerous and can cause a myriad of breathing and heart problems.

CO2 sequestration

All trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air to some extent, but some varieties are particularly proficient.

Countering the Urban Heat Island effect (UHI)

Man-made construction materials concentrated in a small area – like roads and buildings – can cause higher temperatures by absorbing heat and radiating it back into the environment. All trees have the ability to counter this by cooling their immediate surrounds through transpiration and creating shade. Again, some trees are particularly powerful in this regard.

Pollution combatting tree list

An ‘x’ indicates a high rating for that topic. Please note that this list is not exhausting and will continue to expand as more trees are tested. A noteworthy addition is the Hippophae salicifolia ‘Streetwise’, known for its exceptional ability to remove road salts from the soil, particularly from de-icing roads.

Removing air pollutionC02 sequestrationCountering UHI
Acer campestre (and cultivars)X
Acer platanoides (and cultivars)XX
Acer rubrum (and cultivars)XX
Aesclus indiciaXX
Alnus (all species and cultivars)X
Betula albosinensis, Betula ermanii, Betula nigra, Betula utilius (and cultivars)X
Betula pendula (and cultivars)X
Carpinus betulus (and cultivars)X
Castanea sativaXXX
Corylus colurnaX
Crataegus media Paul’s ScarletX
Fagus sylvaticaXX
Juglans nigraXXX
Juglans regiaXX
Liriodendron tulipiferaX
Magnolia ‘GalaxyX
Magnolia kobusXXX
Malus (all)XX
Pinus nigra, Pinus sylvestrisX
Platanus x hispanicaXXX
Prunus ‘AccoladeXX
Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’X
Quercus robur (and cultivars)XXX
Salix albaXXX
Sorbus aria (and cultivars)X
Sorbus aucuparia (and cultivars)X
Taxus baccata and Taxodium distichumX
Tilia cordata, Tilia x euchlora and Tilia tomentosa (and cultivars)XX
Tilia platyphyllos (and cultivars)XXX
Ulmus ‘New Horizon’, Ulmus ‘Rebona‘ and Ulmus ‘Fiorente’XXX
Acknowledgement and thanks to Katerina Hadincova of Barnet Council for compiling the information from the original research:
“Ranking the suitability of common urban species for controlling PM2.5 pollutionJun Yang, Yamin Chang, Pengbo Yan
“The Urban Forest, Cultivating Green infrastructure for People and the Environment”David Pearlmutter, Carlo Calfapietra, Roeland Samson, Liz O’Brien, Silvija Krajter Ostoic, Giovanni Sanesi, Rocio Alenso.
Variation in Nitrogen Dioxide assimilation among 217 plant taxa Faculty of Science, Hiroshima University


Caroline Swann

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