How Much Carbon Do Bushes Absorb? This Ninth Grader Plans To Find Out

Washington (GGM) Analysis | October 30, 2020 by Noreen Wise

Do bushes sequester carbon too? Is planting more shrubs as important as planting more trees in helping to lower atmospheric carbon levels and reverse global warming?

One student at W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia is determined to find out. Ninth grader Julia Victor has accepted the challenge to conduct her own science experiment for the upcoming Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair and is busy mapping out the procedure she will follow to test how much carbon five species of Northern Virginia natives can absorb in comparison to one another. 

The Regeneron ISEF has a wide range of categories, 21 in all, that 1800 participating students are selecting from. As a nature lover, Earth and Environmental Sciences was Julia’s top choice, which she quickly narrowed down to climate change. Julia asked herself questions about which NoVa natives might absorb the most carbon. She then spent time researching, and eventually arrived at her hypothesis: “I am hypothesizing that the holly tree will grow to be the largest and will absorb the most carbon. I also think that shrubs might not be far behind. I am hoping to be able to come to the conclusion that shrubs and smaller plants are just as important to reversing climate change as large trees.”

Julia will be implementing the following steps to test her hypothesis. All the plants will be kept in open containers.

  1. Remove the soil and weigh each plant. Record each plant’s bare root weight (without soil).
  2. If plants are not the same weight, trim each plant until they are approximately equal.
  3. Plant each plant in its new container with 1 gallon of soil each. Label each container with the plant species.
  4. Water each plant with 1 cup of water each. 
  5. Set up each plant’s light to a 12-hour timer to simulate the sun.
  6. Water each plant regularly with its recommended amount of water.
  7. After 25 days, remove all the soil from the bare roots from each plant and weigh.

An important science experiment like this one is challenging enough without there being an extra layer of difficulty. But, Julia isn’t daunted by the complications during the fall season. Julia explained, that there are far less species available for her to choose from this late in the year. Many NoVa natives are nearly dormant, so there’s far less photosynthesis, which means very little, if any, carbon absorption. But Julia persevered and unearthed several standouts she can rely on:

  • American Holly 
  • Strawberry bush
  • Spicebush
  • Arrowwood Viburnum
  • Black Chokeberry

We’ll be checking back with Julia in December to learn about the conclusions she drew once she completes her experiment, weighs each plant, and is able to identify the winning species that sequestered the most carbon. Julia will be managing a total of 25 small plants for her project.

This is a lot of extra work during a very challenging global pandemic. Julia began her freshman year with virtual learning, and appears to be very excited about having something she feels passionately about, nature and science, to keep her mind preoccupied in the midst of a health crisis. “This is my first time participating in the Regeneron ISEF and I’m excited to see everyone’s projects, especially during covid-19.”

I asked Julia how she keeps from feeling intimidated by such a challenging, high level competition. Her response was one that we could all apply to our own lives.

“These days, it’s very easy to get intimidated by projects and big assignments. I found that if I don’t think about it as an assignment, but rather as something I enjoy, then it becomes much easier to do get motivated by my curiosity.”

Nature is an exciting and therapeutic ally to help combat our daily challenges during covid. A major destresser, thanks to its beauty and healing scents, as well as the chemicals it emits that we humans respond to by releasing our own positive chemicals—serotonin for example. Nature is very responsive to human interaction, both positively and negatively. Humans and nature are connected through a symbiotic relationship. What we give is what we get. We see this with climate change of course, but it’s equally as powerful on the positive side of the coin. Nature nurtures. It comforts. Heals. Inspires. Supports. Motivates. Hanging out with nature makes us physically and emotionally stronger. It’s time to recognize this fact and act on it. Planting millions of trees and shrubs and flowers and all types of nature is an investment that pays us back exponentially. So, let’s get planting! If it’s too cold where you are right now, you can plant a seedling indoors in a container and leave inside until spring. 

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