While I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit my mom’s green thumb, my love for plants is definitely at a level 10. I am always in awe of what they can do. Besides transforming your home into a dreamy, leafy paradise (because, vibes), plants help clean up your air, add a pop of color to any space, bring abundance energy, and even repel insects. Another cool thing they're capable of? Some sound-absorbing plants are natural noise cancellers.
“Plants and trees have been used for years as barriers against traffic and other urban noise pollution sources,” says Gladys M-Curtis, PhD, a plant scientist for Garden Safe, a pest control solutions company. “Trees are planted along freeways to help reduce the amount of noise distributed in adjacent communities.” Furthermore, research shows that vertical gardens attached to the exterior of buildings also help insulate noise and reduce sound penetration.
And sound-absorbing plants work indoors, too. Dr. M-Curtis notes that they can reduce noise within open floor plans—whether that's your home or office. To accomplish this efficiently, she says, “the plants should be placed around the perimeter of the spaces, and larger planters should be used, as research has shown that a combination of porous soil and plants provides the best sound absorption capacity.” That said, the amount of noise reduction is proportional to the number of plants. In other words, the more noise, the more plants you’ll need to absorb the sound.
How sound-absorbing plants work
“Although plants lack a recognizable organ designed to receive sound vibrations, such as an eardrum in animals, biological evidence shows that plants are highly sensitive organisms that generate and receive sound signals from the environment,” Dr. M-Curtis says. In particular, she adds, plants interact with incident sound waves (sound waves that travel towards something) in three different ways—deflection, refraction, and absorption—resulting in noise canceling from the environment. “Plants can deflect incident sound energy through vibration of its flexible structure, thereby reducing the intensity of the incident [sound] waves,” Dr. M-Curtis says. “Refraction is when the incident sound wave passes obliquely through the plant and emerges with a change in the direction and speed of propagation.”
And lastly, “plants can absorb sound waves through leaves, branches, stems, and barks of trees and convert the sound energy into chemical energy for physiological processes,” Dr. M-Curtis says. So, not only are the plants absorbing the sound for our benefit, but the sound also benefits the plants themselves in many ways. According to Dr. M-Curtis, sound stimulates plant growth, promotes seed germination, induces plant defense responses against pathogens, delays maturity in fruits, increases stress tolerance, and enhances photosynthesis—the process through which plants turn sunlight into food.
While all plants have the ability to dull noise, some types are more effective at it than others. “The level at which plants absorb sound correlates with the density and size of plants, leaf surface area, and leaf orientation, as well as plant species,” Dr. M-Curtis says.
Here are 5 of the best sound-absorbing plants to get you started
1. Begonia rex
The beautifully dramatic Begonia rex can absorb up to 97 percent of incident sound energy, Dr. M-Curtis says. She adds that these plants make great additions to shady decks, patio gardens, rooftop or balcony gardens, and they can also grow indoors.
2. Boston fern
This evergreen plant, also known as Nephrolepis exaltata, with its sword-shaped fronds and toothed leaf blades, can grow up to three-feet tall, Dr. M-Curtis says. As for its noise-cancelling capabilities, the Boston fern can absorb up to 98 percent of incident acoustic energy.
3. Baby tears
“Baby tears is a creeping, mat-forming, evergreen perennial grown for its ornamental foliage,” Dr. M-Curtis says. But, don’t let its size fool you. “Despite its small-leafed nature, it can absorb up to 90 percent of sound in the audible frequency range.”
Can you even call yourself a plant mom if you don’t have a ficus in your collection? “This is one of the keystone species, or species that highly interact with other species, and have a large impact on their ecosystems relative to their abundance,” Dr. M-Curtis says. They can also get very big—like 15–30 feet tall for tree varieties—earning them an A-plus for sound absorption.
5. Peace lily
In addition to being great at dulling noise, Dr. M-Curtis says peace lilies are also known for removing indoor air pollutants. Not to mention this evergreen houseplant is so pretty to look at, with its elephant ear-style flowers and dark green, glossy leaves. And, it gets bonus points for being relatively pest-free.
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