Probing Question: Does talking to plants help them grow?

Sep 04, 2008 By Alexa Stevenson

In a 1986 interview, England’s Prince Charles discussed his gardening habits, commenting "I just come and talk to the plants, really. Very important to talk to them; they respond."

The theory that plants benefit from human conversation dates to 1848, when German professor Gustav Fechner published the book "Nanna (Soul-life of Plants)." The idea is a popular one, and has spawned several more books and even an album — recorded in 1970 by an enterprising dentist — titled "Music to Grow Plants By." But will crooning compliments to your ficus really have any effect on its growth?

"There isn’t a lot of research in this area," said Rich Marini, head of Penn State’s horticulture department, "But there is evidence that plants respond to sound." In fact, plants react readily to a host of environmental stimuli, as the ability to respond to changing environments is vital to their survival. Explained Marini, "Wind or vibration will induce changes in plant growth. Since sound is essentially vibration, my guess is that vibration is causing a response."

Research supports Marini's guess. A 2007 paper from scientists at South Korea's National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology proposed that two genes involved in a plant’s response to light — known as rbcS and Ald — are turned on by music played at 70 decibels. "This is about the level of a normal conversation," said Marini. The Korean researchers found differing responses depending on the frequency of the sound. The higher the frequency, the more active was the gene response.

But other studies suggest that conversation may not be enough, notes Marini. A Canadian paper showed that seed germination is influenced by sound at 92 decibels — much louder than one would normally speak.

Regarding why plants would have evolved to respond to vibration in the first place, Marini speculated that it may have occurred as a way to help them survive in windy environments. "Plants exposed to wind produce a growth-retardant hormone called ethylene, which causes the plant to be shorter and to have thicker stems. So plants exposed to wind can better survive very windy conditions."

As to another popular theory, that plants respond to the carbon dioxide produced by human speech, Marini isn't buying it. Carbon dioxide levels do influence the rate of plant photosynthesis, he explained, but "people would have to speak to their plants for at least several hours a day to enhance photosynthesis enough to influence plant growth."

Of course, all the good vibrations in the world aren’t going to help the plants if people forget to water them. The bottom line? "The best thing people can do to help their plants grow is provide them with light, water, and mineral nutrition," said Marini. While the studies suggest that sound may spur plants to faster growth, there is no definitive evidence that a gift of gab will turn people into green thumbs. Ideal conditions for growth have more to do with temperature than talk. But if you want to whisper sweet nothings to your begonias, well, nobody's stopping you.

Source: By Alexa Stevenson, Research Penn State

Explore further: PacifiCorp Energy pleads guilty in bird deaths

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert

7 hours ago

Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures ...

Recommended for you

A vegetarian carnivorous plant

16 hours ago

Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

weewilly
not rated yet Sep 05, 2008
Okay, sounds equal vibrations so talking to your plant has a minimal scientific and measurable effect. How come the touching or stroking or petting the plants leaves and main shoots was not mentioned? This is a strong stimulus isn't it? I once many years ago heard of an old lady that beat her peach tree daily with a broom stick because it stopped producing fruit. Well guess what happened? Because of the brutal beatings (tree abuse) this poor tree endured, it decided to start producing fruit again in its advanced age. Reason for this was discovered to be because the inside welts and "bleedings" caused by these viscious attacks stimulated the trees mechanisms to once again bring forth fruit production. This is not fiction but the truth. Strange things still happen when we think we know it all. However, this should have been talked about also but wasn't. Too bad.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.