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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - February 13, 2007

From: Propsect Park, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Managing Roadsides
Title: Roadside plants as absorbers of carbon dioxide
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

If plants absorb carbon dioxide why aren't they on a list of things to do to combat Global Warming? If we had more plants on the sides of our roads and highways would it help?

ANSWER:

In the normal cycle of life, plants absorb and store carbon dioxide while growing and release it back into the atmosphere during the decaying process after death. Research has long shown that forests are important "sinks" for carbon dioxide; that is, they store large amounts of the gas due to their large size and long lives. More recent research has indicated that grasslands may also be important carbon dioxide sinks.

Other than in some desert areas, most roadsides are well-populated with plants - primarily grasses - that certainly use and store significant amounts of CO2. The roads themselves and other developed areas are a separate issue, but in general, US roadsides are probably already absorbing about as much CO2 as they can. Large-scale foresting of our roadsides probably wouldn't be a practical solution for reasons ofpublic safety.

 

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