How plants “hear” music and why it helps them grow is still unclear – it has been suggested that plants have “mechanoreceptors” that respond to air pressure. Because music is sound waves beaming through the air, the idea is that the air pressure changes and plants can feel it. As humans, we have mechanoreceptors in our ears that help us differentiate sounds as they enter the inner ear.
An early test came from India in the early sixties, when T.C. Singh, head of the Department of Botany at Annamalai University, found that certain plants grew up to 20% taller and had considerably greater growth in biomass when he placed speakers playing Indian Raga music around crops of peanuts, rice and tobacco. A US study by farmer and botanist George E. Smith, who was sceptical of Singh’s results, played George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” 24 hours a day, only to yield significantly higher corn and soy groups!
The next to try was Dorothy Retallack, who performed experiments in her glasshouse in Colorado which found that classical music encouraged plant growth, while the psychedelic rock of Led Zepplin and Jimi Hendrix flat-out offended them, with some growing away from the speakers and others dying completely. In 1973, she published a book with her findings called The Sound of Music and Plants. It’s worth noting Dorothy Retallack was a singer, not a scientist (check out this New York Times article from 1971 for more on her story).
Dorothy Retallack’s findings contradict a more recent study where UK gardening personality Chris Beardshaw set up four glasshouse environments with different music playing in three, and one without any music. The music was classical, Cliff Richard and Black Sabbath. Apparently Cliff Richard led plants to a quick suicide, while classical and Black Sabbath promoted noticeable growth.
These days, gardeners of all levels are trying out different playlists to promote plant growth and productivity, including Robert Coxon in Mexico. Check out the video below to see his work in action:
It’s been found that the Telegraph plant (Codariocalyx motorius) responds to music and is often called the dancing plant. You can see the plant reposition its leaves in response to sound waves as well as to ensure optimal light. This video clearly shows how much the Telegraph plant also loves a good riff:
What about other types of music? The jury is still out, although apparently, country music is a no-go. Sorry y’all!
For more curious plant stories like this, join the Plant Life Balance community – sign up to our newsletter for fortnightly news, inspiration and tips, and post your plants online using #myplantlifebalance.