Music is good for the mind, body and soul. We all get our groove on from time to time. But while we’re dancing away in our living room, are our plants enjoying the rhythmic beats, too?
In this article, we’ll ask: does music help plants grow? We’ll explore cutting-edge research giving us the newest information on the topic, take a look at what kinds of music plants like most, and uncover how they can hear sound at all.
Do Plants Like Music?
Much controversy has arisen from this very question: do plants like music? Below, we’ll explore studies arguing that plants do, in fact, like music and benefit highly from it.
But beware! There are many criticisms of these studies, which we’ll uncover later. So, keep a critical eye!
Studies That Found a Positive Effect
1. Dr T. C. Singh
In 1962, a study conducted by Annamalai University’s Dr T. C. Singh unearthed exciting discoveries. Balsam plants grew 20% more in height than those not exposed to music when surrounded by classical music.
What’s more, their biomass increased by 72%! But his experiments didn’t stop there. He repeated his research with field crops and played raga music through a gramophone connected to loudspeakers. Again, the plants grew 25-60% above the norm.
2. Dorothy Retallack
Shortly after came Dorothy Retallack, a researcher at Colorado Women’s College. She studied the ins and outs of the music-plants relationship. In 1973, she published a book called “The Sound of Music and Plants,” which contained the findings of her many experiments.
Retallack found that calming music positively impacted plant growth, whilst harsh, “angry” sounds had the opposite effect. But whatever the music, if the plants were exposed for more than four hours, they showed an adverse reaction.
3. Eugene Canby
Eugene Canby (2007), a Canadian Engineer, later researched the same phenomenon. He carried out experiments on wheat fields, finding that wheat plants immersed in the sweet sound of J.S. Bach’s violin sonata experienced a 66% increased yield.
So, music can positively affect plant growth – but what about seed development?
The Effect of Music on Seed Development
While conducting his various experiments, Dr Singh also found that seeds grew more if they were played classical music than those not exposed to music. He also discovered that these seeds later produced bigger plants possessing more leaves.
Creath and Schwartz (2004) showed similar findings, with musical sounds strongly affecting the number of okra and courgette seeds that sprouted over 5 experiments.
And again, in work by Chowdhury and Gupta (2015), Light Indian Music was found to promote germination and the growth and development of marigold and chickpea plants.
What Music Do Plants Like?
So, what’s it to be? Beethoven or Black Sabbath? One Direction or Miles Davis? Well, let’s see a quick breakdown of the research so far.
|Music Types Plants Like
|Music Types Plants Don’t Like
|Dr T. C. Singh
|Heavy metal, Punk rock
The overwhelming evidence is that plants do benefit from classical music. But for other types of music, further research is necessary. And the evidence seems to be shockingly lacking for music types that plants don’t like.
Interestingly, Retallack suggests that it’s not the type of music, but the sounds themselves, affecting plants. Classical and jazz music tend to have soothing, gentle sounds, whereas heavy metal and punk rock typically contain angrier, harsher sounds.
Would this suggest that the benefits aren’t to do with music at all? To understand this, we have to explore how plants “hear.”
How Can Plants Hear Without Ears?
Before we assume plants can hear, let’s understand the crux of music. Sound is a combination of vibrations that travel, like waves, through the air.
These waves vibrate the air, and it’s these vibrations that are transmitted to your hearing organs (ears, in our case). Once this has been interpreted by our brain, we hear the sound.
Unfortunately, plants don’t have ears. In fact, they have no hearing organs at all. But the vibrations reach their cells and affect the plant’s functioning and, therefore, their growth.
In fact, a 2017 study by scientists at The University of Western Australia found that plants’ senses are much more advanced than we previously thought. They’re highly skilled at sensing sound vibrations because it helps them detect water movement. When they identify nearby water sources, they’ll move their roots in that direction.
But this still leaves us with the question – do plants like music? It seems the answer is yes, but not for the reasons we think. Plants need nutrients, proteins and organelles. Cytoplasmic streaming is how plants transport these essentials within their cytoplasm.
The vibrations from particular genres of music may encourage this process. So, unfortunately, you won’t catch your plant babies boogying any time soon.
Criticisms of Studies Showing Plants Like Music
There are many limitations to the studies demonstrating plants’ fondness for music. Although there may be some truth in them, you often don’t hear about the other, less realistic ideas presented in the same scientific research.
For example, alongside her other findings, Retallack also claimed that plants didn’t like rock music because of the song lyrics and that they had a sixth sense. Not entirely believable, huh?
1. Appel & Cocroft
Appel and Cocroft (2014) found that plants can distinguish between sounds, but this is for survival purposes only. They discovered Rockcress plants that were exposed to vibrations of a caterpillar feeding.
The Rockcress responded by producing more repellant mustard oils when “hearing” these vibrations compared to silence.
In 2018, a study conducted by popular Swedish company Ikea circulated social media. The focus of their research? The effect of bullying on plants.
One plant underwent 30 consecutive days of hate and ridicule, whilst the other received encouraging words and compliments. The plant treated positively thrived, while the plant treated negatively struggled to survive – its leaves wilting and browning at the end of the experiment.
So it’s not just music that affects the longevity of plants.
And another simple explanation for this apparent relationship is care. Plants within these scientific studies receive top-level care to keep them alive throughout the experiment. Music must be the only differing factor, so all other elements are controlled. This special attention is sure to make plants thrive.
So, does music affect plant growth? The answer is, yes, but no one really knows how! There’s evidence suggesting that certain music types help seed development and plant growth, but there’s still yet to be determined.
While some remain optimistic that playing music for plants benefits them as much as us, others favour more scientific suggestions, such that plants use the vibrations as a survival tool rather than a chance to cut some shapes.