Communities of benthic organisms can form very rough surfaces ( canopies) on the seafloor. Previous studies have shown that an oscillatory flow induced by monochromatic surface waves will drive more flow inside a canopy than a comparable unidirectional current. This paper builds on these previous studies by investigating how wave energy is attenuated within canopies under spectral wave conditions, or random wave fields defined by many frequencies. A theoretical model is first developed to predict how flow attenuation within a canopy varies among the different wave components and predicts that shorter-period components will generally be more effective at driving flow within a canopy than longer-period components. To investigate the model performance, a field experiment was conducted on a shallow reef flat in which flow was measured both inside and above a model canopy array. Results confirm that longer-period components in the spectrum are significantly more attenuated than shorter-period components, in good agreement with the model prediction. This paper concludes by showing that the rate at which wave energy is dissipated by a canopy is closely linked to the flow structure within the canopy. Under spectral wave conditions, wave energy within a model canopy array is dissipated at a greater rate among the shorter-period wave components. These observations are consistent with previous observations of how wave energy is dissipated by the bottom roughness of a coral reef.