Scientific research on the effects of music on plants

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Scientific research on the effects of music on plants
Sing to your plants -- they might enjoy it. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

No junior high science fair would be complete without the obligatory experiment exploring music's effect on plants. The presumed connection between melody and flora even resulted in a 1970 album entitled "Music to Grow Plants By." Needless to say, the record didn't hit the Top 40, but some scientists have performed credible research on the subject over the years. Since the 1950s, researchers have wondered how, or if, exposure to music affects plant germination, growth, reproduction and genetics.

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Evolutionary Response

In a 2008 interview, Dr. Rich Marrini, head of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences' horticulture department, speculated that plants may have evolved to respond to vibrations such as those found in sound waves or windy conditions. According to the Research Penn State website, "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 sound is essentially a vibration, plants' genetic response to sound waves may be similar to their response to wind vibration.

Song vs. Sound

Research published in a 2004 volume of the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine" measured the biologic effects of music and noise on okra and zucchini seed germination. Seeds were planted in a dark, humid and soundproof growth chamber. Some seeds were exposed to Native American flute music for 16 hours per day. Other seeds were exposed to a pink noise spectrum, and some seeds received no sound stimulation. More seeds exposed to music sprouted as compared to seeds from the pink noise or control groups, a result that the study authors described as statistically significant. The article concludes that musical sound had significant effects on both species of seeds.

Effects of Rhythm

A 2007 study published in the "Asian Journal of Plant Science" found correlations between exposure to music and rates of root elongation and mitotic division in onion, or Allium cepa, seeds. Researchers exposed some onion seeds to "strong, complex, rhythmic accent classical music with sekunda and kvarta intervals" and some seeds to music with more dynamic and rhythmic intervals. Seeds "listened" to works by Chopin, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Schubert and Wagner. Study results suggest that though both types of rhythms positively affected root growth and mitotic rates, the more dynamic music had a stronger effect.

Early Research

Much of the first plant and music research took place in the 1950s and 60s. Botanist T. C. Singh exposed an aquatic plant to tones from a tuning fork. Normally, this plant species produces a streaming protoplasm only in the evening. Dr. Singh found that the music could induce the plant to stream protoplasm at any time. Singh also exposed a variety of plant species to south Indian violin music with a focus on frequencies in the 100 to 600 Hz range, and found that the plants' growth rate increased. Canadian engineer Eugene Canby exposed wheat plants to certain classical music recordings and reported yield increases up to 66 per cent. A few years later, scientist Dorothy Retallack's research found that frequencies around 5,000 Hz were most effective in inducing plant growth. Retallack exposed plants to different styles of music, with varying results. Classical music by 18th- and 19th-century European composers and North Indian sitar selections were found to have positive effects on plant growth, while rock music and selections from discordant 20th-century composers caused plants to lean away from speakers, become stunted or even die.

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