Researchers Find a Super Plant that Cleans Up Air

Cotoneaster helps improve air quality along roads.


The super plant, cotoneaster, is growing on a roadside in the UK.

(Josh brown photography /

Plants have been essential to humans since the beginning of time. They nourish, clothe, and provide shelter; their beauty inspires joy and many have healing properties. Now, a new use has been discovered, with a recent study identifying a super plant that cleans polluted air.

Noting that car pollution is a global concern, researchers set out to study how effective plants are at capturing roadside particulates. Car exhaust fumes, as well as tire and brake particles contribute to many health issues including asthma, according to Science ABC. Their fumes contain poisons such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene and soot

The scientists at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK selected the city of Reading to study how effective plants are in capturing such roadside particulates. Since previous research has shown that trees help remove air pollution, researchers decided to explore the effectiveness of hedgerows. This study, published in the Environments journal, looked at three species: hawthorn, western red cedar, and franchet’s cotoneaster.

Researchers discovered that cotoneaster was the most effective after comparing particulates on leaves of these three plants. This is due to the plant's hairy, complex leaf structure. Researchers also found that thick hedges over six-feet high were best in reducing the concentration of particles. In the most heavily trafficked areas, cotoneaster soaked up 20 percent more pollution than the other shrubs, according to The Guardian

Dr. Tijana Blanusa, co-author of the study, told The Guardian, “We know that in just seven days a 1-metre length of well-managed dense hedge will mop up the same amount of pollution that a car emits over a 500-mile drive.” Blanusa highly recommends planting cotoneasters along busy roads.

This is great news for urban planners and landscapers, as well as gardeners. Although many people are affected by roadside pollution, an RHS survey shows that only six percent of gardeners are proactive in selecting specific plants that may improve air quality, according to The Guardian.

Originally from China, cotoneaster is a hardy evergreen that can tolerate cold, withstanding temperatures that drop to minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to growing well in the UK, it can thrive in areas from California up to the Pacific Northwest, into British Columbia and around the Great Lakes, according to Gardener’s Path.

Thanks to this recent study, cotoneaster has proved to be extremely beneficial, enabling gardeners and landscapers to make a positive difference to the environment. The hope is that once these super plants are grown in urban gardens, on streets, and along large swathes of highway, they will clean the air plus provide intense beauty along the way.

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