The Effect of Music on Plant Growth
Do plants have feelings? Can they feel pain? To the skeptic, the idea that plants have feelings and can feel pain is ridiculous.
However, several studies show that plants may respond, much like human beings, to sound. Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, an Indian plant physiologist and physicist, spent a lifetime researching and studying the various environmental responses of plants. He concluded that plants react to the attitude with which they were nurtured. He also proved that plants are sensitive to factors in the external environment, such as light, cold, heat, and noise.
Bose documented his research in Response in the Living and Non-Living, published in 1902 and The Nervous Mechanism of Plants, published in 1926.
American botanist and horticulturist Luther Burbank studied how plants react when removed from their natural habitat. He talked to his plants. Based on his horticultural experiments, he attributed approximately 20 sensory perceptions to plants. His studies were inspired by the work of Charles Darwin's The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, published in 1868.
Music for Your Plants
Music for Plant Growth
If plants respond to the ways it is nurtured and have several sensory perceptions, then how do they respond to sound waves and the vibrations created by musical sounds?
Several studies have looked at this question, specifically how music effects plant growth. In 1962, Dr. T. C. Singh, head of the Botany Department at India's Annamalia University, experimented with the effect of musical sounds on the growth rate of plants. He found that balsam plants grew at a rate that accelerated by 20% in height and 72% in biomass when exposed to music. He initially experimented with classical music. Later, he experimented with raga music (improvisations on a set of rhythms and notes) played on flute, violin, harmonium, and reena, an Indian instrument. He found similar effects.
Singh repeated the experiment with field crops using a particular type of raga played through a gramophone and loudspeakers. The size of crops increased to between 25 to 60% above the regional average.
He also experimented on the effects of vibrations caused by bare-foot dancing. After exposed to dancers performed Bharata-Natyam, India's most ancient dance style, with no musical accompaniment, several flowering plants, including petunias and marigold, flowered two weeks earlier that controlled plants.
Seed Development and Music
Through his several experiments, Singh concluded that the sound of the violin has the greatest effect on plant growth.
He also discovered that if seeds were to be fed with music and were later germinated, they produce plants that have more leaves, are of greater size, and have other improved characteristics. It practically changed the plant's genetic chromosomes!
These experiments seem to conclude that plants will respond best to classical music and Indian devotional music. Working around the same time as Singh, Canadian engineer Eugene Canby exposed wheat to J.S. Bach's violin sonata and observed a 66% increase in yield. Canby's research reinforces Singh's findings.
Effect of Rock Music
In a 1973 experiment by Dorothy Retallack, then a student of Professor Francis Brown, three groups of plants were exposed to various types of musical sounds.
For one group, Retallack played the note F for an 8-hour period. For the second group, she played similar note for three hours. The third controlled group remained in silence.
The first group died within two weeks, while the second group was much healthier than the controlled group.
Fascinated by Retallack's findings, two other students went on to do their own test. Plants exposed to Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert grew towards and entwined themselves around the speakers. Another plant group grew away from a speaker that played rock music. That group even tried to climb a glass-walled enclosure in what appeared to be an attempt to get away from the sound.
Retallack later replicated the experiment with rock music on a variety of plants. She observed abnormal vertical growth and smaller leaves. She also observed the plants to have damage similar to that associated with excessive water uptake. In the experiment, marigolds died within two weeks. No matter which way they were turned, plants leaned away from the rock music source. These findings were documented in Retallack's 1973 book The Sound of Music and Plants.
Country and Jazz
Plants that were exposed to country music have similar effect if it were subjected to no sound at all, showing no unusual growth reaction.
Surprisingly, jazz music appears to have a beneficial effect, producing better and more abundant growth. The science television show MythBusters did a similar experiment and concluded that plants reacted well to any type of music whether rock, country, jazz, or classical. Their experiments however, were not thoroughly conducted and are highly debatable.
The Secret Life of Plants
You can read more about this research and about the pioneers who started these experiments in The Secret Life of Plants, (1973) by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The book has short description of the experiments with a brief biography of these scientists. It is not an easy read. However, if you are looking for facts, then this is the book for you.
How Is This Possible?
These experiments confirmed that music does affect plant growth, but how it is possible? In what way does sound affect plant growth? To explain this, let us look at how we humans receive and hear sound.
Sound is transmitted in the form of waves that travel through a medium, such as air or water. The waves cause the particles in this medium to vibrate. When you switch on your radio, the sound waves create vibrations in the air that cause your ear drum to vibrate. This pressure energy is converted into electrical energy for the brain to translate into what you understand as musical sounds.
In a similar manner, the pressure from sound waves create vibrations that are picked up by plants. Plants do not "hear" the music. They feel the vibrations of the sound wave.
Protoplasm, the translucent living matter of which all animals and plant cells are composed, is in a state of perpetual movement. The vibrations picked up by the plant will speed up the protoplasmic movement in the cells. This stimulation then effects the system and may improve performance, such as the manufacture of nutrients that develop a stronger and better plant.
Different forms of music have different sound wave frequencies and varying degrees of pressure and vibration. Louder music, like rock, features greater pressure, which tend to have detrimental effect on plants. Imagine the effect of strong wind on a plant compared to a mild breeze.
Music for Plant Growth in Practice
DeMorgenzon wine estate, in Stellenbosch, South Africa, uses baroque music to enhance the ripening process, not just of the plants but also in the soil. The vibrations help produce good fungi and bacteria in the soil that are vital for healthy vines. This encourages better and stronger root development, resulting in vigorous growth and better fruit.
In 2008, the 91-hectare vineyard experimented with two vineyard blocks, exposing one to baroque music and the other to no music at all. This allowed the vineyard owner to monitor and observe any differences in the production.
The musical repertoire consisted of 2,473 pieces of classical baroque music. With this vast collection, they can play the music nonstop for 7.5 days without repeating.
Despite the outcome of the experiment by Dorothy Retallack, where plants exposed for an eight-hour period died two weeks later, DeMorgenzon wine estate played the music around the clock with no negative results, not just in the vineyard but also in the wine cellar and tasting room.
Another vineyard, Paradiso di Frassina in Tuscany, Italy, uses classical music to get better production from its vineyards.
They observed that plants mature faster when exposed to the soothing sounds of Mozart, Vivaldi, Haydn, and Mahler when compared to a controlled site.
This project to wire the vineyard for musical sound started in 2001 as an ecological way to keep pests away. However, when they saw better and improved plants and fruits, the project continued as a 'productivity tool'.
Just like DeMorgenzon wine estate, the music is played non-stop 24 hours a day with no negative results.
Share Your Experience
Have You Tried Playing Music to Your Plants?
Despite the numerous research and successful commercial usage of music to increase productivity from plants, there are still skeptics who question the effectiveness of this method.
It was reported in the Telegraph newspaper that scientists from National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology in Suwon, South Korea played classical music in rice fields, and concluded that plant genes can "hear" and had improved yield. The research was published in the August, 2007 issue of New Scientist. This finding, however, received negative comments from some quarters which cited external factors such as wind that might have drowned out the experiment's effects. Others say too few samples were analyzed for it to be conclusive.
Linda Chalker-Scott, in her book The Informed Gardener' questions the authenticity of the purported effect of music on plant growth.
She listed several concerns about the work of Dorothy Retallack, including:
- Citing the works of professors in physics and theology, but not in biology.
- Lack of relevant references.
- Poor reasoning and biased expectations.
- Insufficient number of samplings.
- Poor experiment tools.
- Publisher that does not specialize in science.
- Journal is not peer-reviewed.
What Say You?
What is your take on this? Do you agree with Linda Chalker-Scott, who seems to think that good effect of music on plant is just a myth? Or do you strongly agree that music does have a good effect on plants?
Share your views here!