Can Smoke Harm Plants or Help Plants Grow?


We all have at least some experience of irritation caused by smoke inhalation. Smoke is caused by incomplete combustion. This simply means the material is not entirely burned due to a shortage of oxygen. All kind of smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter.

When we inhale smoke, the respiratory tract gets irritated, causing cough and difficulty breathing. Also, eyes and skin become red. When carbon monoxide in the smoke is inhaled, carbon monoxide poisoning causes headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Now the question is, does smoke affect plant growth similarly as it causes difficulties to humans and other living beings? Let us share some interesting facts on this.

Does Smoke Affect Plant Growth?

The exciting part is that smoke can affect plants in both a positive and negative manner. When smoke is produced by the combustion of some material, it increases carbon dioxide over a limited area. Plants need that carbon dioxide to make food and generate the oxygen that helps plants grow with sufficient light. 

On the other hand, smoke can harm plants from incense, cigarettes, or even a bushfire. The emanating fumes can significantly harm plants if they are subjected to the smoke in high concentrations or for a prolonged period. The negative effect is that smoke particles are particulate pollution that can coat the leaf surface and reduce photosynthesis

Particulate pollution in smoke is harmful to humans as well. But plants can clear the air. We all know that when we breathe, we exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also generated from various other industrial processes and human activities.

Plants also help clear particulate and chemical pollutants from the air, protecting our health. It is found that plants with fuzzy leaves are most efficient at cleansing particulates from the air.

Do Trees Absorb Smoke? 

The forests worldwide absorb a third of global emissions every year. This is because particles, odors, and pollutant gases such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia and sulfur dioxide in smoke settle on the leaves of a tree. Trees absorb these toxic chemicals through their ‘pores’ on leaves or stomata, effectively filtering these chemicals from the air. 

A recent study found that plants absorb nicotine and other toxins from cigarette smoke. In the study, researchers exposed peppermint plants to cigarette smoke. After just two hours, the plants had high nicotine levels.

The plants absorbed nicotine from the smoke through their leaves and roots. It took another eight days for the level of nicotine in the plants to decrease to half the original level. Thus, plants can trap and even hold onto nicotine and other substances in the air, soil, and water.

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Trees are also particularly effective at removing particulate matter (PM) in the smoke generated from certain types of combustion and thus reducing air pollution. It’s not that more trees in an urban space always mean better air. On the contrary, some trees are markedly more effective at filtering pollutants from the air than others. Therefore, it has to be the right tree to make the most difference in air quality.

The question may arise in your mind if you smoke and eat produce from your garden, how will it affect your health in this case and how plants will help you out. Keep on reading to know more about this. 

Does Smoke Help Plants Grow?

Smoke certainly helps plants grow. Smoke supplies carbon dioxide that allows plants to grow. Smoke improves seed germination and seedling growth of many plant species. Under adverse environmental conditions, it also becomes helpful.

There is a technology called Smoke Technology, where smoke is used as an essential tool in agriculture and horticulture in arid and semi-arid regions. Smoke Technology is a feasible technology for organic farming that may economize the input of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and help resource-poor farmers in developing nations. There are also possibilities to control some plant diseases and manage weeds using smoke.

Is Incense Smoke Dangerous For Plants?

Incense is an aromatic smoke-emitting substance that is burned following many religious beliefs, and its therapeutic use as aromas soothes the senses. It is sometimes also used as a mild deodorant or to repel insects. However, burning incense is dangerous to plants because of the toxicity of concentrated smoke.

While burning the incense sticks, the compounds may end up on the leaves and in the cellular structure of the plants. Because of the incense smoke, the leaves tend to drop off, and the plant itself is subjected to stunted growth and eventual death if left unchecked.


Is Wood Smoke Good For Plants?

The quick answer is yes. As long as you don’t see a thick, smothering blanket of ash, the wood ash might help your plants. Many gardeners mix their soil with wood ash, which provides potassium, phosphorous, calcium, and trace minerals. It works incredibly well for acid soil since it reduces acidity at the same time.

However, the smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles known as particulate matter (PM) or particle pollution. In addition to particle pollution, wood smoke contains several toxic air pollutants, including benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

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This particulate matter in wood smoke can coat the leaf surface of plants, reducing photosynthesis and clogging the leaves’ stomata, thereby reducing gas exchange in the leaf.

How Does Smoke Affect Plants?

Smoke creates positive effects by increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is because plants extract carbon dioxide from the air and use it in photosynthesis to produce food. Contrarily, smoke and ash particles can coat plants inhibiting photosynthesis.

Smoke particulates and tar can clog stomatal pores, preventing the gas exchange required in photosynthesis. This reduces gas exchange in the leaf, decreasing the amount of food available to the plant. At the same time, smoke contains toxic chemicals that destroy chlorophyll on a plant affecting photosynthesis.

If the plant gets ample water and sunlight and uses the extra carbon dioxide, it can make more food for itself. Also, moderate levels of smoke can diffuse the light in the high desert area that is generally exposed to very intense light every day, relieving plants there. 

Smoke that sticks to plants can be harmful to plants. Plants, especially fuzzy plants, remove these smoke particles from the air by absorbing them into their leaves and stems and by minerals translocated through the roots. It eventually helps clean the environment. Thus, the result benefits plants, humans, and animals dependent on oxygen. 

Does Cigarette Smoke Affect Plants?

Yes. A few studies discuss how cigarette smoke affects the growth and health of indoor plants. In a small study, plants exposed to cigarette smoke for 30 minutes per day grew fewer leaves, many of which browned and dried out or dropped off sooner than leaves on plants in a control group.

Plants absorb toxins from cigarette smoke and the air in general. Too much cigarette smoke in a small area could have more detrimental effects on your plants than the other way around. 

Several viruses are also found which can infect tobacco. Out of them, a virus called Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) can be spread through touch or physical movement of tobacco residue. TMV infects a broad host range of plants.

Therefore, smoking or handling tobacco products in a greenhouse or near plants is not recommended. Instead, washing hands after handling tobacco products is advised. The risk of spreading tobacco mosaic virus through cigarettes or containers may be low but still possible.

Plants filter cigarette smoke to a certain extent. More cigarette smoke means more toxins that plants absorb. It’s always better to smoke outdoors to avoid any health-related issues for you, others, or your plants. 

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Can Smoke From Wildfires Be Dangerous To Plants?

Yes. Smoke from wildfires is dangerous to plants. But it’s a complicated equation, determined by how close the crop is to a fire, how thick the smoke is, and how much light is affected. Two variables, crop varieties and staging, can affect plant growth. When smoke goes on for a long time, the plant growth is minimal compared to a sunny day when it continues to grow. 

However, recent research by Kyle S. Hemes, Joseph Verfaillie, and Dennis D. Baldocchi in the January 2020 Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences indicates that wildfire smoke could increase plant productivity. They studied the ecological effect of wildfire smoke in the Central Valley during the summer of 2018.

They found that the smoky skies only blocked about 4% of sunlight and scattered it, allowing the light to reach beyond a plant’s upper foliage to further into dense canopies. As a result, the smoky skies increased the photosynthesis efficiency of the plant canopies, leading to increased productivity.

In some cases, the smoke has increased yield capacity, but only to a certain point. One of the factors that affect growth is the amount of pollutants in the air and their effect on stomata. If there’s increased impurity, some plants will shut down their stomata.

Some studies have also shown that when the air is very smoky, photosynthetic light available to the plant is less and reduces photosynthesis. In addition, increased carbon dioxide and particulates in the air can lead to light refraction

More field studies need to be done to establish this question, as most current research looks at the fires’ effects on plants and soils.


The article indicates that plants could be a way to filter indoor air from cigarette smoke to make it healthier for human residents as you could use plants to absorb toxins from cigarettes and other smoke and the air around. 

Giving a bath to your plants will not likely harm them through the smoke. Smoke and ash aren’t likely to penetrate deep into the fruit or vegetables. Still, you’ll want to wash any garden produce down well before eating it, perhaps two to three times.

Also, clean both sides of their leaves with water if your garden plants are covered with smoke and ash. Try to use a weak mix of vinegar and water to wash them. Moreover, washing with water before consuming it removes the residue you might otherwise ingest. 

The smoke is hazardous to humans. Luckily, we have the plants to help us out that clean the air for us.

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