Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Are some plants better than others at sucking up carbon dioxide? © iStock

Are some plants better than others at sucking up carbon dioxide?

Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

The longer a plant lives, the longer it can store carbon dioxide.

Asked by: Roy Musselbrook, Ramsgate


Plants use carbon dioxide (CO₂) during photosynthesis to make glucose. It takes six molecules of CO₂ to make every molecule of glucose, and this basic building block is then used for energy and to make the structure of the plant itself. This biochemical reaction is the same for all plants, but the faster a plant grows, the more carbon dioxide it will use up per second. By that measure, bamboo might be the best at sucking up CO₂. However, fast-growing plants tend not to live long and when a plant dies, all the carbon in the plant is broken down by insects, fungi and microbes and released as CO₂ again.

So the plants that are considered the most adept at locking away carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are the longest-living ones, with the most mass – hardwood trees. It’s all temporary though. Eventually every plant returns all the carbon dioxide it uses back to the atmosphere.

Read more:


Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.


luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.


Sponsored content