Road verge vegetation and the capture of particulate matter air pollution

Lory Sillars-Powell, Matthew J. Tallis, Mike Fowler*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Urban air quality is considered a major issue in cities worldwide, with particulate matter (PM) recognised as one of the most harmful pollutants regarding human health. The use of plants to act as air filters and immobilise PM has been identified as a potential method to improve the air quality in these areas. The majority of the work has focused on trees, with the application of shrub and herbaceous species largely overlooked. Two contrasting leaf morphologies from a shrub and herbaceous plant species were sampled at four locations across Southampton (UK), from varying traffic conditions. Samples were analysed for the mass of PM captured, particle size, and elemental composition. These analyses were used to characterise the different sites and the plants’ effectiveness at immobilisation of PM. Captured PM mass was shown to be directly related to traffic density, with greater traffic density leading to higher levels of captured PM. PM origins were attributed to emissions from vehicles and the resuspension of particles by vehicle movement. The bulk of the PM mass was shown to originate from natural, crustal sources including large proportions of Al, Si, and/or Ca. Increases in elements from anthropogenic enhancement (such as Fe and Zn) were related to high traffic density. Particle size analysis identified that, despite the use of standard leaf-washing protocols with a final 2.5 µm filter, PM was dominated by fine particles (<2.5 µm physical diameter), with particles >10 µm rare. Bramble leaves were calculated to have a species-specific deposition velocity 0.51 cm s−1 greater than ivy, with deposition velocities calculated at 1.8 and 1.3 cm s−1 for ivy and 2.3 and 1.8 cm s−1 for bramble at Redbridge Road and Brinton’s Road, respectively. These values can allow for the more accurate modelling and estimation of the PM removal abilities of these plants.
Original languageEnglish
Article number93
Number of pages19
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


  • air quality
  • urban environment
  • particulate matter (PM)
  • green infrastructure (GI)
  • herbaceous plants
  • shrub plants
  • elemental composition
  • principal component analysis (PCA)
  • roadside sampling


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