Plant Cuttings

Facing the music

US Bureau of American Ethnology, 1916.
US Bureau of American Ethnology, 1916.

Plants are daily subjected to myriad biotic and abiotic factors and have to respond appropriately to them or suffer the consequences. However, one factor they’ve probably not been subjected to for much of their evolutionary history is… music. Whether music should be considered abiotic or biotic is a moot point, but an investigation into how vegetation responds to the ‘sound of the harmonic spectrum’ was undertaken when the UK’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played for an audience – presumably invited – of ‘100 different varieties of plants and bulbs including geraniums, fuschias [sic] and perennials’. Organised by shopping channel QVC the aim was to test the notion that the reverberation of sound waves stimulates protein production in plants and may lead to increased growth. Months on, I’ve not managed to track down the results of this important experiment; can anybody help me? If you’re keen to try the experiment for yourself (or turn it into a student-led project??), a 45-minute album based on the performance, ‘The Floral Seasons: Music to Grow To’, is available to download. [I’d like to make it clear that I have no financial interest in the QVC Channel. In fact I hadn’t heard of it until researching this news item!] This story has some resonance (pun intended…) with an older report that suggests that talking to tomato plants leads them to grow taller. And the voice that seemed to have the greatest response in this regard – and you really couldn’t make it up! – belonged to Sarah Darwin (yep, great-great-granddaughter of the Galapagos gazetteer himself, good old Charles…), who appropriately enough was studying Galapagos Solanum at the time. For more on this fascinating topic, do look at the ‘Probing Question: Does talking to plants help them grow?’ at

About the author

Nigel Chaffey

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.