Abstract Leaves of six main tree species from the Pearl River Delta (PRD) in Southern China were collected to identify the interspecific variability, the spatial variability and the seasonal variations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons' (PAHs) concentrations, and to calculate the amount of PAHs removed by leaves. PAHs concentrations in pine needles were much higher than in broad-leaves and leaves from urban/industrial areas (Baiyunshan and Heshan) exhibited two times greater concentrations than leaves from the rural area (Dinghushan). Seasonal variations of PAHs in leaves occurred with lesser concentrations in September. Leaves in PRD scavenged 3.7 ± 0.9 t PAHs y −1, accounting for about 10% of the total amount emitted in this region. This result suggests that forests play an important role in the fate of PAHs.