Can plants hear you talk? Devotees have believed for decades that playing the appropriate music mix will stimulate garden growth. Despite the limited success of this Depeche Mode edict for plant modification, new evidence reveals that plants “hear” – just not as well as humans.
So, let’s break it down: What effect does music have on plants? What are they hearing? Can they hear us talk? Here’s a basic rundown of the science behind sound-sensing plants.
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Can plants hear you talk?
Yes, they can. Multiple scientific studies have concluded that, while plants do not have ears, they can “hear” sounds in their immediate surroundings. More significantly, they are capable of reacting.
According to Tel Aviv University research, “exposed to playback sound of a flying bee or to synthetic sound signals at identical frequencies, Oenothera drummondii blooms generate sweeter nectar within 3 minutes, potentially enhancing the probability of cross pollination.” In reaction to the sounds, the petals mechanically vibrated, “suggesting a conceivable mechanism where the flower serves as an auditory sensory organ.” While the plants vibrated and produced sweet, sweet nectar in response to pollinator noises, they had no response to random, higher-frequency noise.
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Meanwhile, Scientific American highlighted research from the University of Western Australia. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary scientist, and her colleagues planted pea seedlings in pots with two “arms”: one led to a tray of water or a plastic tube with water running within, while the other led to dry earth. The peas grew toward the water in all cases, indicating that they could “hear” it passing through the pipe. The article also mentioned a 2014 study that revealed the rock cress arabidopsis can distinguish between blowing winds and chewing caterpillars. If the latter, the plant increases its chemical toxin synthesis to thwart flora feeders.
The study of plants can hear us talk
Why have we not heard of this until now? According to a study on the influence of sound on mung bean sprouts, research on the effect of sound on plants has traditionally focused on noise outside the audible range (20-20,000 Hz). The researchers discovered that sound intensity of 90 dB and frequencies of roughly 2,000 Hz “suggested that the sound wave can minimize the germination period” of mung bean sprouts and induce a “substantial increase in growth.”
Beyond Chemical Triggers: Evidence for Sound-Evoked Physiological Reactions in Plants, on the other hand, found that exposing rice to 0.8-1.5 kHz sound waves for one hour boosted drought tolerance and stomatal conductance. Systemic immunological responses occurred when crop plants such as pepper, cucumber, tomato, and strawberry were subjected to 1,000 kHz sound, specifically “the Ca2+ ions ingress cytosol from outside the plants membrane.” The researchers hypothesized that these ions could act as secondary messengers, boosting plant resistance against microbial diseases. Some plants can react to the sound from the best air purifier, which are very good for growing plants.
This also explains why the alleged success of supplying plants with a steady stream of classical, pop, or rock music to promote growth is so difficult to quantify scientifically — because plants aren’t normally exposed to the melodious strains of Beethoven or the prog-rock pugnacity of Pink Floyd, it’s difficult to obtain reliable results.
What should we do if we know plants can hear us talk?
Should we pay attention to what plants say if they can hear?
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While the “wood wide web” has been discovered, this subsurface network of bacteria does not speak a language that humans can use to increase plant protection and productivity. However, new study reveals that plants may make ultrasonic noises in reaction to certain stimuli, such as a shortage of water or the cutting of their stems. While there is some conjecture that insects may reject stressed plants in favor of more mellow options, this is placing the stem ahead of the stamen – there is just not enough data to draw a firm judgment.
However, there is a potential benefit to listening in: Water-stressed plants appear to make more noise than their stem-cut counterparts. If subsequent research confirms this result, it could pave the way for producers to install listening stations in commercial agricultural and greenhouse operations, allowing them to identify possible drought areas and take immediate action.
Plants are adored by humans. Though we are not always the best caretakers of seed-based life, we are impelled to discover fundamental links between flora and animals. While human evolution is unlikely to coincide with plant-based abilities such as photosynthesis, it turns out that noise has natural universality.
Plants can hear. Not quite. But it appears that they are paying attention. Especially if you’re someone who loves gardening.