What Are the Best Plants for Carbon Capture? 

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Carbon is the most common element and integral to several ecosystemic carbon absorption and respiration cycles. Carbon molecules readily bond with themselves and others and are found in more than ten million compounds. Carbon dioxide is crucial for plant survival.

The Role of Carbon For Plants

CO2 is released during plant decay, where bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes consume carbon for growth and multiplication.

This source of carbon dioxide allows plants easy access to one of the essential organic compounds needed for their food production.


Plants can combine six carbon dioxide molecules with six water molecules to produce a glucose molecule and have six oxygen molecules to spare – 6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2. The process is called photosynthesis and depends on light energy and organic chemistry.

Some of this glucose feeds on plants and becomes wood. These above-ground carbon stocks are absorbed when plants die out and decompose. 

The excess can be secreted via the roots and benefit microorganisms such as mycorrhizae, bacteria, etc. These bacteria also improve the soil’s water-holding capacities and boost plant resilience.

CAM Photosynthesis

Some plants are so good at this process that they absorb the carbon dioxide during the cool of the night, store it as an acid, and use it during the daylight. All day they hold their breath to avoid water evaporation (transpiration). That’s how succulents survive hot desert climates without dehydrating. Brilliant.

The Role of Microorganisms

Nature is a symphony of living organisms, chemical reactions, and carbon compounds, with microorganisms playing a leading role.

They are solely responsible for decomposing organic matter, creating building materials for plant growth, and feeding a whole ecosystem of soil predators.

The Effect of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide  

The atmosphere only contains 0.4% of atmospheric CO2, but the slightest change in that ratio has dire consequences for global temperatures. Earth’s balance between freezing and frying is affected by several factors, and the number of atmospheric gases plays a crucial role.

CO2 Tolerance Thresholds

Interestingly, the Earth’s atmosphere comprises only 0.4% CO2, with nitrogen at 78% and oxygen at 11%. The challenge with atmospheric CO2 is its propensity to trap heat radiated from the earth’s surface, creating the greenhouse effect. 

While transport, industries, and electricity generation contribute vast quantities, according to the EPA, agriculture contributes 11%.  This is mainly due to farming practices that don’t embrace a regenerative approach. 

According to NASA, Earth would freeze without some greenhouse gases but could become like Venus, where temperatures are around 750 ⁰F (400 ⁰C) because of the greenhouse gas (GHG) effects on that planet.

The Role of CO2 Emissions in Global Warming

Scientists have discovered that CO2 is the gas that sets the temperature, even though it has a minor overall greenhouse effect than water vapor. 

The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere is regulated by carbon dioxide, which also affects the extent of the greenhouse effect.

The planet is already warming due to rising CO2 levels. According to NASA, average world temperatures have increased by 1.4 ⁰F (0.8 ⁰C) since 1880, parallel to the rise in greenhouse gases.

What is Carbon Sequestration?

All life on Earth depends heavily on carbon. The amount of carbon on Earth is constant and may readily and swiftly change form. 

Carbon compounds readily decompose or burn and release CO2. Fossil fuels are carbon-based, increasing CO2 levels beyond what nature can absorb.

As seen above, CO2 emissions contribute to global warming at levels above what nature can manage. We must limit emissions and increase nature’s capacity to absorb (sequestrate) CO2. 

For millennia, nature has sequestrated copious amounts of greenhouse gasses – from vast herds of herbivorous wildlife to forest fires. Nature managed all these through terrestrial sequestration.

Soil organic carbon is a product of the pedosphere’s interactions with nature’s other spheres – biosphere, atmosphere, hemisphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere. The pivot point is the pedosphere, the ground we walk on, and the plants it sustains.

The Role of Organic Diversity in Carbon Sequestration

Diversity in and on the soil is a break from the belief that monocropping is the most effective way to meet market needs. Diversity encourages inter-species symbiotic effects, promotes competition, and enhances resilience.

Plant Diversity

Rather than planting a single crop and fighting to manage weed emergence, the regenerative approach includes complementary plants that support the main crop.

An example is intercropping with the Fabaceae family to boost nitrogen fixation, eliminate the need for weeding, act as a green mulch, and leave a nitrous plant residue in the soil at the season’s end.

Several trees and shrubs also help extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and channel it into the ground, making it available for plant growth. We’ll explore this later, so keep reading.

The Role of Soil Biota Diversity

Biologically diverse communities increase the likelihood of having a species more adept at managing challenges within the system, thus increasing the community’s survival chances. 

Diversity is a proven factor in increased systemic resilience, crop diversity offers the same benefits, and both effectively contribute to carbon sequestration.

For those interested in this exciting field of study, check out the Soil Biodiversity Observation Network (SoilBON) to see how everything is linked and the pivotal role of soil biodiversity.

Healthy soil equates to healthy plants, so change the focus to caring for the soil rather than plants – their well-being will reflect the soil’s health. Healthy soils store carbon for plants.

How to Introduce Microorganisms

Adding quality compost to the soil is the easiest way to boost biological diversity and increase the carbon stored. An alternative to adding compost is to use actively-aerated compost tea (AACT). 

As a compost extract, it contains all the microorganisms the soil needs. Also, the fungi-bacteria ratios can be manipulated by adding proteins (fungi booster) or carbohydrates (bacteria booster) during the aeration process.

A third method uses specially formulated biodiversity boosters, such as Effective Microorganisms (EM-1®) used in Bokashi.

Carbon Farming

A wide range of agricultural techniques known as “carbon farming” are used on various farm types to maximize soil carbon storage.

Many of these methods are used frequently in permaculture, regenerative agriculture, organic farming, and other forms of food production.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the environment and store it as they photosynthesize.

When they pass away, this carbon returns to the atmosphere or is kept in the plant for a long time.

Whilcategory e many activities in conventional agriculture release carbon, those that fall under the category of “carbon farming” try to achieve the reverse.

Many countries incentivize carbon farming to fight global warming – the more carbon you can show stored as soil carbon content, the more you are paid.

Plants That Store Carbon Dioxide 

Planting tree and shrub species can help stop the effects of climate change. They absorb CO2 before it can penetrate the upper atmosphere, where it prevents the Earth’s radiated heat from escaping.

What can you do to lessen environmental pollution and enhance our environment’s ecological impact? Two things – increase soil health and cultivate plants that capture carbon naturally. 

This allows us to mitigate the risks of CO2 emissions, which individuals have little control over. Carbon gardening helps carbon sequestration, benefits your garden, boosts soil carbon levels, and allows the earth to become a carbon sink again.

The carbon cycle on Earth can be restored by improving carbon sequestration by soil and plants and reducing activities that add carbon to the atmosphere (like industries that use coal).  

Global warming is a man-made phenomenon caused by an imbalance in CO2 production from burning fossil fuels and deforestation.

Gardening practices that focus on storing soil carbon can be a crucial instrument for lowering the effect of emissions and boosting soil and plant health. It can contribute to restoring the past decades’ 46% loss of natural forests and the impact of burning fossil fuels (carbon).

Global Warming Plant Advice Sites

Several tools on the internet can help you select the best plants for your environment, plants that are effective in mitigating global warming. 

One such site is the UK’s Plant for a Future, a site that provides insight into the work of a small environmental group in Cornwall. PFAF also has an extensive database of 8,000 plus plants that can help climate change mitigation efforts.

Indigenous plants are best adapted to local conditions and require less input. Being locally acclimatized, they have deep root systems and adapted foliage. Find out more about indigenous plants for your zip code at the National Wildlife Federation.

All these resources are aimed at helping you fight global warming using native plants and species that effectively support climate change mitigation efforts. 

Best Tree Species That Fight Global Warming

A tree’s mass is 80% carbon, so it’s often argued that faster-growing trees sequester more carbon. However, many slower-growing trees last longer – up to a thousand years – and, in their lifetime, will store much more carbon than fast-growing species.

Trees Encourage Biodiversity

Interestingly, 75% of stored carbon is held in the soil – a product of biodiversity.

When the ground has diverse populations of fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, protozoa, arthropods, earthworms, and small mammals, they all break down organic matter and capture carbon in the process. 

Planting trees is one of the most influential global warming mitigating efforts as it speeds up carbon removal from the atmosphere channeling it into the earth’s surface. Plant a tree, any tree!

Where is the Carbon Stored

It’s important to note that in the ecosystem surrounding a tree:

  • Foliage and branches only store 17% carbon

  • Roots store 6%

  • The leaf litter stores 5%

  • Deadwood only 1%

  • And the soil stores 72% carbon because of the ecosystem created by the tree.

Tree Species to Consider

When choosing tree species to plant, consider the following:

  • Long-lived trees can store carbon for centuries without releasing it in decomposition. 

  • Fast-growing trees are prolific carbon capture machines during their first decades.

  • Expanded foliate enables maximum carbon capture.

  • Native species grow stronger in local soils and support local wildlife.

Your region will inform your choice of planting trees, so look at the National Wildlife federation’s recommendations (above). Below are five trees I recommend. 

Yellow Poplar

It is extensively used in New York City for its resilience and carbon storage capacities and is known as the Tulip Tree.


Whether you choose the scarlet oak, willow oak, or laurel oak, all thrive in various climates, and they live for a very long and are great at carbon sequestration.

American Sweetgum

This large, durable tree is excellent in the south and offers stunning fall colors. Consideration for the colder northern regions would be the American Linden instead.

Blue Spruce

Blue spruce is a famous tree that thrives in the colder north. 

Horse Chestnut

The chestnut is often used in cityscapes because it is resilient and provides excellent shade. That domed shape is also great for carbon sequestration, controlling city pollution.

Best Shrubs for Carbon Capture

Occasionally disregarded in favor of more giant carbon-capture trees, shrubs and hedgerows can also enhance the ability of the land to capture carbon. 

Sustainable land management requires gardens, shrubs, and hedges with perennial qualities. The amount of carbon stored increases with the hedge’s width. 

Building mixed hedgerows effectively guarantees a high degree of carbon capture for a considerable time.

In Summary

Using carbon agriculture, CO2 emissions into plants and soil organic matter will decrease. It has two advantages: better crop output, healthier soil, and increased potential for longer-term carbon storage to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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