Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What A Plant Hears?

An example form The Telegraph of research into plant hearing
While loads of research support the idea that plants see, smell, taste and feel, support for plant auditory prowess is indirectly proportional to the amount of anecdotal information we have about the ways in which music may influence how a plant grows. Many of us have heard stories about plants flourishing in rooms with classical music. Typically, though, much of the research on music and plants was carried out by investigators who were not necessarily adhering to the controls found in laboratories grounded in the scientific method. Not surprisingly, in most of these studies, the plants thrived in music that the experimenter also preferred. 

In retrospect perhaps, these musical experiments were doomed from the start. What relevance would human music, whether baroque or bebop, be to a plant? When studying plant vision we don’t show a plant an eye chart and ask it to read the bottom line, and in studying plant olfaction, we don’t ask it to differentiate between Chanel #5 and Old Spice. Rather we study the sense in an ecological and evolutionary relevant setting.

A very recent paper from the laboratory of Stefano Mancuso in Italy attempts to apply rigorous standards to determine what exactly plants hear and how this affects plant development. Their preliminary results show that not only do corn roots apparently grow towards specific frequencies of vibrations, but roots themselves may also be emitting sound waves! Hopefully, studies like these will move us away from the ridiculous question of what music plants prefer.

If this line of research pans out, I'll have to rewrite Chapter 4 of WHAT A PLANT KNOWS (which by the way goes on sale today)!

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