Comparative Ecosystem Benefits of Common Urban Trees and Palms in South Florida

Marguerite M. Beckford and Gary W. Knox

Community trees provide many ecosystem services: improved air quality, reduced heat-island effects, cleaner stormwater runoff, and positive physical and mental health impacts. Additionally, a mature native tree has the lifetime capacity to sequester more than 3000 pounds of carbon dioxide as carbon (i-Tree 2020). Urban forestry Extension programs aimed at redressing canopy loss from urban development and promoting awareness of urban forestry benefits can play a significant role in urban reforestation and, ultimately, climate change mitigation. Ecosystem benefits of urban trees also have an economic impact on communities. In a study of a large midwestern US city, i-Tree data modeling determined that urban tree plantings contributed to saving the city roughly $6.8M in energy costs and increasing the city’s property values by $7.1M.

In addition to mature size, root structure, and plant hardiness zone, a tree’s ecosystem benefits should also be considered when making informed decisions about tree planting choices in urban reforestation. Comparatively, broadleaf trees outperform many conifers and most palms in the ecosystem services they provide—for example, lifetime amount of carbon sequestered in pounds. The quantity of ecosystem benefits a tree provides will depend on the planting site. Planting the right tree in the right place, where spacing considerations and soil conditions can support optimal tree growth while minimizing tree maintenance costs and public safety risks, will result in the tree’s capacity to contribute maximum ecosystem benefits.A comparison of some important ecosystem benefits by tree species is summarized in Table 1. The differences in annual carbon sequestration between species at the same location, with the same diameter at breast height (dbh) and sun exposure, is based on information the i-Tree data model uses to estimate the height of a tree based on species and dbh. The data in the table indicates that based on information in the i-Tree data model, hardwood trees with taller estimated heights annually sequester more carbon.

More information about urban forestry Extension and the benefits of community trees is available at UF/IFAS Extension Treejuvenation Florida.

Table 1. Comparative Ecosystem Benefits of Common Urban Trees and Palms in South Florida.

 

Broadleaf Trees

Conifers

Palms

i-Tree MyTree Benefits1

(18" dbh)

Gumbo Limbo

Bursera simaruba

Mahogany

Swietana mahogani

Live Oak

Quercus virginiana

East Palatka Holly

Ilex × attenuata

Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora

Slash Pine

Pinus elliottii

Bald Cypress

Taxodium spp.

Eastern Red Cedar

Juniperus virginiana

Florida Thatch Palm

Thrinax radiata

Cabbage Palm

Sabal palmetto

Annual CO2 Sequestered (pounds)

52

623

487

769

423

539

356

57

2

5

Lifetime CO2 Equivalent of Carbon Sequestered (pounds)

16,325

11,963

10, 994

7,321

2,830

4,930

4,872

2,253

75

75

Annual Stormwater Runoff Avoided (gallons)

516

516

505

146

222

271

269

292

50

50

Annual Rainfall Intercepted (gallons)

2,331

2,331

2,283

659

1,003

1,224

1,216

1,318

226

226

Ozone Air Pollution Removed Annually (ounces)

51

44

48

24

32

32

39

44

5

5

Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution Removed Annually (ounces)

3

2

3

1

2

2

2

2

0.2

0.2

1 i-Tree is a cooperative effort between the USDA Forest Service, Davey Tree Expert Company, The Arbor Day Foundation, Society of Municipal Arborists, International Society of Arboriculture, Casey Trees, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

References

National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council (NUCFAC). 2015. Ten Year Urban Forestry Action Plan: 2016–2026. https://urbanforestplan.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/FinalActionPlan_Complete_11_17_15.pdf

i-Tree. 2020. “MyTree Benefits Database.” https://mytree.itreetools.org/#/

Peer Reviewed

Publication #ENH1340

Date: 2021-04-30
Knox, Gary W
Environmental Horticulture

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Fact Sheet

About this Publication

This document is ENH1340, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 2021. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Marguerite Beckford, EdD, Extension agent II, UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, Sarasota, FL; and Gary W. Knox, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy, FL; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Contacts

  • Gary Knox