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What Trees are Best for the Environment?

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There is no doubt that all trees are great for the environment. Through photosynthesis, trees turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. Not only does this give us oxygen to breathe, but they also clean the air. Altogether, some trees are better for the environment than others. In fact, some trees are far superior at affecting climate change.

Planting trees and other plant life is one of the best things we can do for the environment. For far too long, humans destroyed forests without replacing the tree population. Forward progress outweighed the concern about trees. Moreover, less was understood about climate and the environmental impact of our actions.

Trees are excellent filters for carbon dioxide and other gasses in the environment. Overall, they can remove many damaging aspects of the air before it reaches the ozone layer. A single acre of trees can combat the exhaust from cars driven over 26,000 miles per year.

There are genera that are superior at cleaning the air compared to others. Altogether, you will want to choose trees with large leaves and wide canopies. This setup will give the tree the most surface area for photosynthesis. Moreover, native and local trees generally perform better than transplanted species.

If you choose a tree that grows quickly, you will find it cleans the air extremely well in the first ten years. After that, performance greatly decreases.

Best Trees for the Environment

  1. Silver Maple
  2. Yellow Poplar
  3. London Plane
  4. American Sweetgum
  5. Blue Spruce

1. Silver Maple

What Trees are Best for the Environment - silver maple

The silver maple is a large tree. It grows to 80 feet in height with a 50-foot spread. With such a large spread, the broad green leaves can receive ample sunlight. Overall, the silver maple grows quickly. Most silver maples will grow over two feet a year. The first decade of its life will see ample oxygen production.

The Center of Urban Forests traps 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in its lifespan. Likely the biggest reason for the high productivity is the 6-inch-wide leaves. These leaves are green on top and lighter on the bottom. In autumn, they turn a light yellow.

In springtime, you can recognize the silver maple by the small clusters of flowers. The flowers can be red, yellow, or silver.

Altogether, the root system of the silver maple is incredibly strong. It spreads far from the trunk to support the tree. However, the limbs do not demonstrate the same strength. The limbs often break when subjected to rough weather.

Silver maples are forgiving trees to plant. However, the widespread root system means you should plant them far from buildings, sidewalks, and other structures. The silver maples are native to the Illinois area. On the other hand, they can live in many other areas around the United States. They are heat and frost tolerant.

2. Yellow Poplar

What Trees are Best for the Environment - yellow poplar

The yellow poplar is colloquially known as the tulip tree. This name is because of the beautiful blossoms that appear in the springtime. The blossoms closely resemble the U-shape of tulips. Many consider the yellow poplar to be the best air-cleaning tree in the country. Despite the quick growth rate, the yellow poplar develops strong wood and lives for a long time.

Most yellow poplars grow to 100 feet. However, some reach heights of 150 feet. Some trunks reach 6 feet in diameter. Overall, the yellow poplar grows in a pyramidal shape, but the canopy develops a large spread. Like the silver maple, the bright green leaves are 6 inches wide. The broad leaves allow the yellow poplar to consume significant amounts of carbon dioxide.

Yellow poplars grow in the Northeastern portions of the United States. The natural range is from Maine to Kentucky. However, some succeed in southern states. These trees are cold-hardy and prefer the colder climates of the north.

In portions of the Appalachian Mountains, yellow poplars grow to 100 feet before developing limbs. This growth pattern makes it valuable for timber companies. The lack of limbs makes it easy to break down for lumber.

3. London Plane

What Trees are Best for the Environment - london plane

The London plane is a hybrid developed by man to combine the traits of the American sycamore and the oriental plane. Altogether, the London plane grows to 130 feet in height. The root system allows for planting in urban areas. It does not spread into sidewalks and foundations easily. That being said, it is one of the best tree species in urban areas. The height in particular makes it a superior choice for urban planting.

Unlike the first two trees on this list, the London plane grows at a medium rate. Furthermore, it is not cold hardy and must be planted in the southern states. The leaves of the London plane are unusually large. In fact, you can measure the leaves to be 7 inches long and 10 inches wide.

Given the great height and massive canopy, the London plane needs ample space to grow. However, the space will be worth it. Overall, the London plane lives for several hundred years with little maintenance. That means that these trees will be cleaning urban pollution for generations.

The London plane is native to the United Kingdom. Early arborists discovered the tree’s high tolerance to urban pollution, smoke, and grime. With these results, urban planners often add the London plane to the landscape.

4. American Sweetgum

What Trees are Best for the Environment - American Sweetgum

The American sweetgum is another southern tree. They highly prefer the heat of the southern states and even spread into tropical regions. Ultimately, the American sweetgum is a shorter tree, only reaching 75 feet. However, the canopy spreads to 50 feet.

While the American sweetgum cleans the air well, it does not do well in polluted soil. The leaves are large on this tree as well. They grow to 7 inches in length. Overall, the younger trees are pyramidal in shape, but the tree rounds over time. With such large leaves, the branches begin to bow as the tree ages.

Native to the southeastern United States, the American sweetgum truly thrives in this climate. In successful planting, these trees easily live to 400 years old. Arborists consider it one of the most common hardwood species in the southern United States. Some portions of Connecticut support the sweetgum’s growth.

One concern of the American sweetgum is a leafy parasite that causes significant problems for the tree. The parasite causes holes in the leaves which greatly affects the photosynthesis process.

5. Blue Spruce

What Trees are Best for the Environment - blue spruce

The blue spruce is the only coniferous species on our list. Altogether, it seems counterintuitive for the small needles of the blue spruce to be a contender for pollution control. However, the blue spruce is the best carbon dioxide absorber of any conifer. In fact, it even eclipses many deciduous species in absorption.

The blue spruce is native to very small areas of the Rocky Mountains. On the other hand, arborists and landscapers love the blue spruce so much that it is planted for ornamental purposes across the United States.

Blue spruces grow to 75 feet tall in native settings but are stunted to 50 feet in urban settings. Overall, the blue spruce grows in a conical shape. Many Christmas tree farmers plant blue spruces. The blue-green needles are often sought after because of their unique color. Although, the needles are incredibly sharp making them difficult to handle and decorate.

Overall, the blue spruce grows at a medium rate. A deep root system supports the spruce and the soil surrounding it. That being said, the deep root system also protects the tree from rough conditions. Additionally, the blue spruce lives close to 800 years in an ideal environment. A long lifespan means that the blue spruce will clean our environment for years to come.

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