Music. Turn off the sound in a horror movie, and you’ll notice how the pictures on the screen won’t be so frightful anymore. In the climax of a romantic film, it isn’t the characters pouring their hearts out that is triggering our tears – it’s the overwhelming symphony of the orchestra.
As Friedrich Nietzsche penned it: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Music gives us rhythm and movement – it captures our feelings and emotions. It makes a dreary morning commute or a quiet evening more bearable, more romantic. When we’re angry, there’s a song for that. When we are sad or happy, or in love, there are tunes that we can sing to with glee.
As adults, we know that music affects our mood. It can help lift us up or heighten what we already feel. But it isn’t just us adults that benefit from the sound of music. Babies inside their mother’s womb are believed to respond to sound. There are now playlist for babies in the womb. Parents are encouraged to sing and talk in calming and assuring tones, so the child is surrounded by positivity.
So if an unborn child’s well-being can already be affected by music, it should make sense for other living things also to benefit from the uplifting sound. That idea might seem a little hilarious to think about. But if you’ve had plants for a while, you’ve probably heard other plant lovers tell you to talk to your plants at least every day.
Do Plants Respond to the Environment?
Plants are surprising organisms. They do not have central nervous systems that contain brains, but they are highly receptive to the things surrounding them. They respond to where the light is, how strong the gust of the wind is, and to the weight of someone’s touch. Some types of audio cues help plants survive and thrive.
If you’ve ever grown sunflowers you know what we mean by plants responding to light. Sunflowers love the sun and will always face towards it. Where the sun is in the morning or at noon, you will see the sunflower facing to the side or looking straight up. There are also types of plants that orient their leaves to the sun’s rays. It’s called leaf heliotropism.
Plants also respond to sound. The Royal Horticultural Society conducted research to see if sound can help plants grow faster. It’s amazing the lengths we go through to see our plants live their best greener selves.
The study took the recording of 10 people (men and women reading literary or scientific works). There were 12 tomato plant pots, the 10 of which had the audio recording played through a set of headphones attached to their respective pots. The two other tomato pots were the control subject with no sound or audio recording played to them.
At the end of one month, the plants all grew healthy and thriving, but the noticeably taller plant was attached to the recording of a female voice! Perhaps the dulcet tones of women are more appealing to plants?
A 2018 study conducted by Ikea found even more reason we should be speaking positive affirmations to our plants (and to each other). To help illustrate the ill effects of bullying, Ikea displayed two plants with one receiving constant compliments and the other plant getting negative, and hurtful words. The result is pretty visual and drives to the point. Getting bullied consistently weakened the second plant until it eventually wilted and died.
How can music boost plant growth?
There’s a very colorful and wildly imaginative book called The Secret Life of Plants written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. It’s full of anecdotes about how plants think and converse with us. But it also reveals the relationship between music and plants.
It says the right sounds can produce tall, healthy, and fast-growing plants. There’s a point about the quality of music plants listen to. From the claims of this book, several research studies have been conducted to support it.
In Colorado, researcher Dorothy Retallack conducted a greenhouse experiment involving different genres of music and different varieties of plants. She found that plants physically leaned towards where classical and jazz music was being played. But the plants that were played rock and metal music withered and tried to grow away from the source of the noise.
Marigolds who were played rock music died within 2 weeks of the experiment, but the plants who heard classical music were blossoming even more.
Meanwhile, an experiment conducted in India showed that plants have the most noticeable positive reactions towards classical Indian music. T.C. Singh of the department of botany at Annamalai University concluded: “proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flowering, fruiting, and seed-yields of plants.”
Finally, one skeptical botanist played Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” 24 hours a day. His planted corn and soybeans produced thicker and greener plants.
The Final Note
Many people continue to contest the idea that plants are sentient beings that respond to music. It’s often dismissed as absurd for plants to prefer Vivaldi over Metallica. But if it were possible, scientists credit vibrations and physics.
While the jury is still out over this one. We recommend you test this out with your own plants. Spotify has a few dedicated playlists for plants. See if your calatheas and alocasias do grow taller with the calming sounds and vibrations.
The best part of this experiment? You will enjoy the peaceful and tranquil sounds as well!