Experts at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) have found that the bushy, flowering Cotoneaster garden plant can help absorb roadside air pollution.

The groundbreaking new study found the hairy leafed plant a perfect roadside accessory.

Natural purifier

The UK’s leading gardening charity found that the hairy-leaved plant was at least 20% more effective at soaking up pollution. The study comparing different types of shrubs including hawthorn and western red cedar on roads with heavy traffic. It forms part of work by the charity to ease environmental problems such as air pollution, flooding and heatwaves.

The Cotoneaster has simple leaves and clusters of bright berries. It’s ideal to place in pollution hot spots, such as busy cities.

Whether on the roadside, balconies or small gardens, it helps purify the air. However, the study found that it did not make a significant difference on quieter streets.

Proven impact

“On major city roads with heavy traffic, we’ve found that the species with more complex, denser canopies and rough and hairy leaves such as cotoneaster were the most effective,” Dr Tijana Blanusa, the lead researcher, told The Guardian. “We know that in just seven days a 1-metre length of well-managed dense hedge will mop up the same amount of pollution that a car emits over a 500-mile drive.”

She said Cotoneaster would be ideal to plant along busy roads in pollution hotspots. In other areas, encouraging nature was key, and a mix of species would be recommended.

Plant for victory

Of the 2056 people questioned, 33% stated air pollution directly affects them. But just 6% are actively taking steps to alleviate pollution from their garden. Meanwhile, 86% care about the environment and 78% are worried about climate change.

RHS is hoping to harness that interest to encourage people to think about helping the environment in their gardens.

Prof Alistair Griffiths, RHS director of science and collections, adds: “We are continually identifying new ‘super plants’ with unique qualities which when combined with other vegetation provide enhanced benefits while providing much needed habitats for wildlife.

“We’ve found, for example, that ivy wall cover excels at cooling buildings. Hawthorn and privet help ease intense summer rainfalls and reduce localised flooding. If planted in gardens and green spaces where these environmental issues are most prevalent, we could make a big difference in the fight against climate change.”