Can Plants Feel?
Do plants have feelings? Can they feel pain? To the skeptic, the idea that plants have feelings and can feel pain is ridiculous.
However, based on several studies, these seem to be true. Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, an Indian plant physiologist and physicist, spent a lifetime researching and studying the various environmental responses of plants and concluded that plants react to the attitude with which they were nurtured. He also proved that plants, just like human beings, are sensitive to external environment such as light, cold, heat and noise.
Music for Plant Growth
If plant responded to how it was nurtured and have several sensory perceptions, will it then respond to sound waves and vibrations created from musical sounds?
Several studies were conducted to find the effect of music on plant growth and Dr. T. C. Singh carried out one of these earlier research.
In 1962, Dr. T. C. Singh, head of the Botany Department at Annamalia University, India, experimented with the effect of musical sounds on the growth rate of plants and found that balsam plants 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 (type of music that improvises on a set of rhythms and notes) played on flute, violin, harmonium and reena, an Indian instrument; and found to have similar effects.
He repeated his 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.
Vibrating Effect on Plants
He also experimented on the effects of vibrations caused by bare-footed dancing using Bharata-Natyam, India’s most ancient dance style, which has no musical accompaniment, on several flowering plants including petunias and marigold. They flowered two weeks earlier that the controlled plants.
Effect of Classical Music on Plants
Eugene Canby, a Canadian engineer, exposed wheat to J.S. Bach’s violin sonata and observed an increased in yield by 66%. This further reinforced the works of Dr. T.C. Singh who had observed positive results from playing classical music to plants.
Seeds Feed With Music
Through his several experiments, T. C. Singh concluded that violin is one of the most effective musical instruments for plant growth.
He also discovered that if seeds were to be fed with music and were later germinated, it would produce plants that have more leaves, will be 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.
Will Rock Music have Similar Effects on Plant Growth?
In an experiment by Dorothy Retallack (1973), a student of Professor Francis Brown, she exposed three groups of plants to various types of musical sounds.
In one group, she played the note F for an 8-hour period. In 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 Dorothy’s findings, two other students went on to do their own test. The experimented plant grew towards and entwined themselves around speakers playing Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.
Another plant group grew away from a speaker that played rock music. It even tried to climb a glass-walled enclosure in what appeared to be an attempt to get away from the sound.
Effect of Rock Music on Other Plants
Retallack later replicated this experiment with rock music on a variety of plants. She observed abnormal vertical growth and smaller leaves. She also observed the plants to have similar damages as plants that have excessive water uptake. In the experiment with marigolds, it died within two weeks.
The plants also leaned away from the rock music source, no matter which way they were turned. These were documented in her book ‘The Sound of Music and Plants’ (1973)
Hence, rock music does not create similar beneficial growth effects as produced by classical music or Indian devotional music.
Effect of Country Music
Plants that were exposed to country music have similar effect if it were subjected to no sound at all, i.e. there is no abnormal growth reaction.
Effect of Jazz Music
Surprisingly, jazz tend to have beneficial effect compared to rock or country music. It produces better and more abundant growth!
MythBusters, a science entertainment TV program, did similar experiment and concluded that plant reacted well to any type of music whether rock, country, jazz or classical. Their experiments however, were commented as not thoroughly conducted and highly debatable.
How Does Music Affect Plant Growth
These experiments confirmed that music does affect plant growth.
How it is possible? In what way does sound affect plant growth? To explain this, let us look at the analogy of how we receive and hear sound.
Sound is transmitted in the form of wave that travels through a medium such as air. The wave causes the particle in this medium to vibrate.
Hence, when you switch on your radio, the sound wave will create vibration that will then cause your eardrum to vibrate. This pressure energy will be converted to electrical energy for the brain to translate into what you understand it as musical sounds.
Plants will Pick up the Vibration
In a similar manner, the pressure from sound wave will create vibration that will be picked up by plants. Plant does not hear the music. It feels the vibration of the sound wave.
The protoplasm, i.e. the living matter in the form of translucent substance of which all animals and plant cells are composed, is always in a state of perpetual movement. The vibration picked up by the plant will speed up this protoplasmic movement in the cells. This stimulation will then affect the system and may improve on its ‘performance’ such as the manufacture of more nutrients that will give a stronger and better plant.
Different music has various sound wave frequencies and these have varying degree of pressures and vibrations. Louder music from rock music has greater pressures that tend to have detrimental effect on plants. Imagine the effect of strong wind on plant compared to a mild breeze, as an analogy to the effect of strong music on plant.
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