Worms and Flowers

Talkin’ to Plants: Good Vibrations

Posted in Scientific by Lzyjo on July 16, 2009

Over the weekend I read a post from Gururaj at the Japanese Garden about what his cuttings are saying about him, in particular, he mentioned that his curry leaf cuttings were depressed by the strange lack of ambient street noise, since moving to Japan from India. These thoughts really struck me, it was only last Friday that I threatened my hyacinth bean. With strong intentions I thought to myself, “You Hyacinth bean, you had better flower, or I am going to award you with slow-poke of the year award.” That very same day, in the afternoon, the flowers had popped open!!

We ‘ve all heard the old adage, talking to your plants may help them grow. We’ve also heard things about plants having feelings and enjoying music. I am not disputing that plants are alive, after all, we can watch them growing, but it’s the stuff that happens on the molecular level that really puts a funk in all these arguments about plants having physical feelings.

The notion that plants have a sense of feeling has been around since 300 B.C. Greek  biologist and metaphysicist Theophrastus was one of the first to note the physical response of plants. Darwin, also mentioned this phenomenon when studying the roots of sprouting broad bean seeds (that’s fava beans to us Americanos. ) This work can be found in Darwin’s book The Power of Movement in Plants.

The tendrils of vining plants like clematis, peas, and cucumbers are a great example of a plant’s sense of feeling. When the tendril “feels” support it modifies the growth of the tendril, stopping growth were there is contact and increasing growth in the other parts to quickly and tightly wrap around the support.

In 2004 MythBusters tested the talking to plants to increase growth hypothesis. Despite a malfunction with the experiment’s irrigation system and problems like germinating peas in midsummer on an L.A. rooftop, they concluded that it was indeed plausible.

First it should be mentioned that there have been numerous studies showing correlations between high levels of atmospheric CO2 and relative growth rate. This is a natural defense mechanism. If there is a catastrophic natural disaster, such as a forest fire, the plants usually temporarily increase their relative growth rate and  photosynthesis before becoming acclimated to the CO2-heavy environment.

To eliminate a CO2 response, MythBusters recorded their positive and negative talking. In the experiment there were seven greenhouses, two of positive talking, two of negative talking, a death metal greenhouse, a classical music greenhouse, and the control.

Their results showed the positive and negative talking being equally effective, while the classical music performed better, and best of all were the plants from the death metal greenhouse.

Researcher’s from South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology have found two genes controlling plants’ response to light were also turned on by music played at 70 decibels. The Korean researchers found differing responses depending on the frequency of the sound. The higher the frequency, the more active was the gene response. A Canadian paper showed that seed germination is influenced by sound at 92 decibels—much louder than one would normally speak.

More from this PennState article can be found here.

Form these various experiments we can conclude that the vibrations of  sound waves trigger Thigmorphogensis, a response plants have to wind, physical touch, and sound, which makes the plants produce ethylene that in turn slows down the upward growth of plants, making them sturdier and stronger to withstand the wind.

In conculsion, neither whispering doting words of affection, nor breathing down your plants neck will increase their overall growth, but turning on the fan, or turning up the stereo just might help to grow a stronger plant!


5 Responses

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  1. tina said, on July 16, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    Pretty neat. I’m glad I am not wasting my breath talking to my plants. I do talk to the birds though but not loud enough to affect the plants. The neighbors would surely get concerned:)

    Who cares what the neighbor thinks! I think they plants just crave attention! Plants are a lot like pets, maybe I should be leaving the radio on for them when I go out?! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. mr_subjunctive said, on July 16, 2009 at 11:28 AM

    I’m working on a series of posts on a similar topic: not talking to plants, but — well, I’ve already said too much. Talking to plants might help, but if somebody asked me for advice about an ailing plant, I think talk therapy would be the absolute last thing I would recommend.

    Talk therapy would probably be more helpful to the owner suffering the loss. Talking to plants certainly isn’t going to bring back the dead, but a plant would vastly prefer a daily visit with a watering can, rather than languishing by the potting shed, or wherever one keeps their dying plants. It’s just funny that there is a minuscule grain of truth in this urban legend. I’ll be looking forward to your series!

  3. gail said, on July 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM

    I think I’ve been neglecting my sweeties pies…and I’ll go out to turn the fans on them! Talking to them is a nice centering experience for me. I have been yelling at the mosquitoes…that CO2 thing is probably working against me and for them;) Gail

    LOL! Gee, I hope yelling at those mosquitoes doesn’t make them angrier and bloodthirstier. Your plants will certainly appreciate the attention, who knows, maybe they miss you!!

  4. Jen said, on July 16, 2009 at 1:26 PM

    So interesting! I was playing Led Zeppelin on the deck yesterday. Not quite death metal, but I do have lotsa flowers today! I wonder….? Off to shout at my hyacinth bean!

    LOL! There was one woman in the 70s who rigged her experiments and she supposedly “killed” a plant with Led Zep. I think it’s more likely she forgot to water. I love Led Zeppelin, maybe I should play some for the plants! 🙂

  5. artistsgarden said, on July 17, 2009 at 2:42 AM

    In one of my customers gardens – I did give a daylily a stern talking too – and told it I would dig it up next year – the following week it flowered for the first time in years 😉

    I swear they know what’s going on! I’m going to start counting backwards from ten and threatening with with spankings if they don’t do my bidding!! Muhwahahahahaha!!!!

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