Amazing Nature

Do Plants Have an Ear for Music?!

Originally published in Green Country, Issue 129 (Dec 2017)
Author: Green Power
Some unpicked tomatoes

“Talk to your plants, play music to your plants.” Some gardeners believe that plants grow better this way, but others don't agree. Plants do not have a hearing system, so cannot differentiate between sounds, not to mention growing better with sound or music! However, there has been research showing that plants can indeed hear, and are even fond of some specific kinds of music!

In 1962, Indian botanist Dr. T. C. Singh discovered that the balsam plants grew an extra 20% in height and 72% in biomass when exposed to classical music. There were similar results when traditional Indian raga music was played. He later experimented with other crops, and found that they grew 25% to 60% larger under the influence of raga music.

In 1973, Dorothy Retallack, a music student at the Colorado Woman's College of the United States, carried out a series of experiments on plants and sound. She placed three groups of plants separately. In the first and second groups, a single note F was played for eight and three hours non-stop per day, respectively, while the third group was placed in a silent environment. Within two weeks, all plants in the first group died off. Plants in the second group were healthier than those in the third group. This proved that plants do respond to sound. How long they are exposed to sound also makes a difference.

Classical Music (Beethoven) QR Code
Classical Music (Schubert) QR Code

Traditional Indian raga music QR code
Classical music  (Beethoven) (top); Classical music (Schubert) (middle); Traditional Indian  raga music (bottom); Plants apparently grow better and faster under the  influence of classical music and traditional Indian raga music.

Inspired by the findings, Dorothy Retallack and her classmates played different types of music to plants, including classical music (such as works of Beethoven and Schubert) as well as rock music (such as works of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix). The results were that the plants grew towards and even entangled around the speakers playing classical music. On the contrary, the plants grew away from the speakers playing rock music, and abnormal growth such as smaller leaves was observed. And all plants died off within two weeks under the influence of rock music. The experiments showed that plants prefer classical music and perhaps hate the noise of rock music. The results were recorded by Dorothy Retallack and published in the book The Sound of Music and Plants.

Rock music (Led Zepplin) QR code
Rock music(Jimi Hendrix) QR code
Rock music (Led  Zepplin) (top); Rock music (Jimi Hendrix) (bottom);  “Listening” to rock music is evidently not  good for plants.

Only psuedoscience?

Plants differ from animals in that they have no hearing organs or cells. In theory, they would not respond to sound. Or in another words, sound should pose no impact on plants. Yet from the above research, we see that plant growth is affected by sound, music, a single note or the duration of the sound. It even shows some preference for certain type of music. If there's a more scientific explanation, it must have something to do with the nature of sound.

Sound is generated by vibrations, which are transmitted to the hearing organs of humans and other animals through the vibration of particles of the medium (air, liquid or solid). After interpretation by the brain, we can perceive the sound.

Plants do not have hearing organs, but the vibration can still be transmitted among the cells, affecting cell functions and water and nutrient transport in the vascular bundles. Different sounds have different frequencies and amplitudes. Vibrations of classical music are similar to a gentle breeze, hence favouring plant growth. On the other hand, vibrations from the strong beat and drumming of rock music pose harm to plant growth.

Nevertheless, the notion that sound vibrations affects plant growth has not earned complete scientific confirmation. There is still debate in the scientific community on the above research. Due to the multiple factors affecting the experiments (such as equipment, sound level, choice of songs, etc), results of different experiments cannot be repeated and compared.

Though there are assertions that the above research belongs to “pseudoscience”, many gardeners firmly believe that playing music does help plant growth. All in all, with all the care and hard work, the plants will surely grow strong and well!