Why palm trees are falling out of favor with environmentalists

Here’s something that may make you rethink how you landscape your property.

Florida’s beloved palm trees don’t do much to offset climate change. They don’t absorb nearly as much pollution as other “woody” trees like oaks. WFOR-TV reported:

With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels today higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Earth needs to remove it or humans have to stop adding it. In fact, the last time carbon dioxide concentration was this high was more than 3 million years ago.

Scientists are working on solutions to capture and safely contain atmospheric carbon. One approach is called “terrestrial sequestration” — which is essentially planting trees. A tree absorbs carbon during photosynthesis and stores it for the life of the tree.

But Florida’s beloved palms are the least effective at carbon sequestration. The average palm in southern Florida only absorbs 5 pounds of CO2 per year.

Compared to other trees — oaks, mahogany, pines, and cedars — that can sequester more than 3,000 pounds of CO2 over their lifetime, it may be best to exclude palms in favor of more broadleaf trees or conifers.

Kristine Crous, a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University, explains that palms don’t produce wood, so they’re poorer at storing carbon.

That is why some don’t think palms are actually trees at all. Botanists, ecologists, and forestry specialists all have a variety of definitions of what a tree actually is. (Palms are sometimes defined as big grasses, shrubs, and even trees, depending on whom you ask.)

Regardless, the concern is that a standard passenger vehicle emits about 10,000 pounds (4.6 metric tons) of CO2 per year, which means we need a lot of trees to combat the amount of vehicles on the roads.


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