Can Smoke Harm Plants?: Straight Forward Facts


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Plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis which in turn produces oxygen. The beneficial aspect of having plants within the home is to purify the air and make it more breathable for us.

Smoke can be harmful to plants. Whether the smoke is coming from incense, cigarettes or even a bush fire, the emanating fumes can cause significant harm to plants if they are subjected to the smoke in high concentrations or a prolonged period of time.

Plants provide a healthy living environment for us, but are we actually doing the same for them with our day to day habits? Smoking and burning incense are two habits which can have a very negative effect on the very plants we employ to clean the air we breathe. 

In this article we will dive into how the different sources of smoke affects plants and their ability to clean the air around us.

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Smoke and Plants

How do Plants Breathe?

Before we look at how smoke can harm plants, let’s see exactly how they breathe.

Plants don’t breathe like humans since they don’t have lungs like we do. However they still use oxygen for many cellular functions. 

Plants get oxygen from the air through their stomata found in the epidermis of leaves. Respiration takes place in the inner parts of the plant cell called the mitochondria. Here, aerobic respiration occurs in the presence of oxygen which was absorbed from the air.

Photosynthesis is the reverse of respiration. This allows us to create a symbiotic relationship with plants.

In the process of photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) from the air and soil. The carbon dioxide is reduced within the cells of the plant meaning that the oxygen (O2) is removed. The oxygen is then expelled back into the air through the leaves.

Plants can filter smoke since they take up the carbon dioxide produced from combustion or oxidation of whatever is being burnt. As explained the carbon dioxide is used in photosynthesis which is necessary for plants to grow.

The problem starts when the other constituents of what is being burnt comes along with the carbon dioxide in the form of smoke.

Carbon dioxide is a clear colourless and odorless gas. We breathe it out every time we exhale from the process of respiration

Is Smoking Cigarettes dangerous to plants?

Smoking cigarettes can be dangerous to plants if they are subjected to high and prolonged concentrations to the smoke which can coat leaves and prevent photosynthesis.

The smoke from cigarettes is not just carbon monoxide but a concoction of other organic compounds and particulate matter including Nicotine, Hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde and Lead just to mention a few.

As we know cigarettes are associated with cancer and some of these mentioned compounds are known carcinogens. These compounds when exhaled enter the air when exhaled and eventually into the plant.

Some chemicals even coat the leaves and clog the pores preventing photosynthesis from taking place.

If smoking is not good for us, then it is definitely not good for plants. The effect they have on plants are deformed and dropping of leaves. 

In a study, in determining whether a leaf was small, medium, or large were impacted by smoke from cigarettes, showed that the leaves didn’t change so much in size as they did in appearance, The smoked leaves stayed a reasonable size, but turned a wrinkled brown until they shriveled and fell off.

Is Burning Incense Dangerous for plants?

Burning incense is dangerous to plants because of the compounds the incense may contain coupled with the concentration of smoke it’s toxicity.

Incense is an aromatic smoke emitting substance which can be therapeutic and follows many religious beliefs. It sometimes can be used as a mild deodorant or to repel insects.

Incense are made up of organic materials with certain tones of aromas which soothes the senses.The type of incense being used however can have a negative impact on plants and how they function.

If you are going to purchase incense be sure that it is organic and from a reputable seller. Cheap inscenets are often made using harmful compounds and when burned, ends up in the air we breathe. 

This is not good for the plants as well, as the compounds may end up on the leaves and into the cellular structure of the plants. 

The effects incense smoke have on plants is that the leaves tend to drop off and the plant itself is subjected to stunted growth and eventual death if left unchecked.

Can Smoke from a Bushfire be Dangerous to Plants?

Smoke from bush and forest fires can be detrimental to plants as the compounds they contain. Exposure to only 30 minutes of smoke can have major effects on stomatal conductance which prevents the normal functions of the plant as shown in this study.

The color we associate smoke with comes from the incomplete combustion of carbon compounds which gives it the gray to black colour. 

This colour comes from mainly carbon monoxide (CO). Notice that the compound (CO) only has one oxygen? That’s what we term incomplete combustion.

During bush fires carbon compounds are deposited directly onto the leaves of plants in the form of ash and soot, totally preventing the photosynthesis process. 

Also, direct heat from the fire can cause leaves to wilt and fall off.

The Takeaway

Plants like us also use oxygen and through the process of photosynthesis we can have a beautiful symbiotic relationship with them.

We know that plants purify the air around us but if we continually subject the plants to smoke and dangerous chemicals which come with it, they will eventually die.

Plants however, can regenerate themselves once they are relieved from the harmful environment they are subjected to. 

In general, smoke and plants do not mix well. To prevent plants from succumbing to the effects of smoke you should ensure that the plants are placed in a well ventilated area free of smoke build up.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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