The growth rate of tropical trees relates to their capacity for carbon capture. South American forests are likely to capture carbon and produce wood half as fast again as their counterparts in Asia, but the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon remain unclear. Banin et al. compared the rates of above-ground woody biomass production of trees in permanent forest plots within northwest Amazonia and northern Borneo, confirming that Bornean forests produced wood at a 49% faster rate than their Amazonian counterparts. This difference was maintained, even when climate and soil conditions (temperature and moisture) were controlled for. The substantially greater rates of production and carbon capture in Asian forests may be partly due to higher solar radiation, but the inherent character of Asian forests appears to be the major reason for the difference. Species of the dominant Southeast Asian tree family Dipterocarpaceae exhibit significantly higher production than most other tropical tree species, even when growing in identical plots. These results highlight that taxonomic groups differ in their fundamental ability to capture carbon and focusing conservation efforts on specific plant groups or areas (e.g. those dominated by dipterocarp trees), might prove to be useful in ongoing efforts to maintain and enhance global carbon sequestration.