One of the hobbies that I picked up during quarantine this year has been gardening. It’s been a very peaceful hobby for me and it’s helped me channel some of my pent up creative spirits and frustrations that I used to release by attending concerts and social gatherings. I also started a collection of house plants, because full disclosure: I live by myself and having plants around makes me feel less alone. The highest concentration of plants inside my house is inside my office here at Extra Chill HQ, which also happens to be where I spend most of my free time, and most of the time there’s music playing in my office.
The kicker here is that the plants in my office are happier and healthier than the plants in the rest of my house by a fairly large margin. This got me thinking, South facing window aside: Are the plants in my office happier because of the music? Do plants like music?
It turns out that I’m not even close to being the first person to have this thought, and in fact there has been ongoing scientific research into the effects of music on plant growth since the early 1960s. I’m sure its no coincidence that this research started during the psychedelic revolution in America, at a time when thought notoriously expanded and many people found themselves embracing more open-minded perspectives. Well, I’m telling you from personal experience, those hippies were onto something!
The first person to test the theory that plants like music was the Indian botanist Dr. T. C. Singh, who in 1962 ran some experiments on a farm by playing classical music through loudspeakers for crops in a field. He found that the crops that were exposed to music had a 20% higher yield, and were also significantly bigger than those crops not exposed to music. He also ran similar experiments testing the effects of music on seed germination and came to the same conclusion: music is beneficial for plant growth.
There have been several other experiments using different types of music, and the general consensus is that yes, plants do like music, but only certain kinds of music, and only for certain amounts of time. Studies have found that plants seem to prefer classical and jazz music, with smooth vibrations, rather than more abrasive genres. It’s not that plants have ears, but rather the vibrations created by music replicate certain aspects of a natural environment that stimulate growth, such as the effect of wind.
Now, of course there have been disputing claims on the topic. Some people say that it’s a load of crap, and that the only reason plants seem to like music is because the ones who are having music played for them are receiving special attention and care from their owners, who happen to also be around and caring for their plants when there is music playing.
There are also many variables that come into play when conducting these kind of experiments on plant growth, and it would take a large scale, well-funded scientific experiment to determine once and for all of music does in fact help a plant grow. That has not really been done to date.
Even the popular Discovery Channel show Mythbusters tried their hand at this one, and tested the effects of both talking to and playing music for sunflowers on the rate of growth. Their conclusion was that it was “plausible” that plants enjoy music and grow better because of it, but like many other naysayers, they concluded that there were too many variables at play to reach a concrete conclusion.
What this means is that it’s up to you to decide for yourself if you think plants like music. For me, the idea is way too much fun to believe it’s false, and I’m choosing to believe that all this Grateful Dead I’m playing in my office is having a positive impact on my Monstera.
The idea that plants might like music became part of mainstream discussion in 1973, when Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird published a little book called The Secret Life of Plants. The book claims that plants are sentient beings, and thus have feelings and emotions of their own. It presents this in a pseudoscientific way and suggests farming methods based on the premise that plants are emotional beings. Part of this was the idea of playing music for your plants to help them grow.
Now, certain botanists have criticized The Secret Life of Plants and insisted that it is merely a work of fiction, but nevertheless the ideas presented took hold, and the book became popular and accepted among open-minded and creative plant-and-music-loving individuals all over America. In 1978 it was adapted into a documentary of the same name, and none other than the great Stevie Wonder was enlisted to make the soundtrack.
While the film itself ended up becoming a side-story, never seeing major release, Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants was released as a double album in October of 1979. It was the follow-up to his most famous and well-regarded album, Songs in The Key of Life, and it was dragged through the mud by critics everywhere.
What we have here is a 90 minute, mostly instrumental album that makes use of atmospheric tones and nature sounds to create Stevie Wonder’s representation of the movie, which I may need to remind you that Stevie Wonder is blind. The film was scored while the producer explained to Stevie what was happening on screen, and the engineer counted frames until things changed on screen to give Stevie some sense of timing.
The music is certainly weird, but looking back it’s not nearly as bad as the critics made it seem, and it stands today as a cool piece of pop culture from a decade that is notoriously filled with cool pieces of pop culture.
A fun fact about Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants is that it was only the second all-time record to be recorded digitally, and the first one to ever use a sampler, the Computer Music Melodian. Solange even credited the album as an influence for her 2019 album When I Get Home.
Listen to Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants below.
Another weird record from the 70s is Mother Earth’s Plantasia by Mort Garson, which was actually composed and released as music for plants. Like some kind of sonic fertilizer that is guaranteed to make them grow big and strong. No kidding. What’s even more strange is that the album was only available in one of two ways. First was at this hip plant store in Los Angeles called Mother Earth, where it was included as a free gift with every house plant purchase. Secondly, you could snag your very own copy of Mother Earth’s Plantasia by purchasing a Simmons mattress from a Sears outlet. This one really has me scratching my head.
Obviously, since Mother Earth’s Plantasia was released under such ridiculous conditions, it hardly made a ripple at the time of its release, and it quickly found its way to obscurity. Later, it became a sought-after record for vinyl collectors, and copies were selling for hundreds of dollars. In 2019, however, the album was picked up by Sacred Bones Records, and is now widely available and on all major streaming platforms.
As for how it sounds, well, Mother Earth’s Plantasia is just as weird as the story behind its creation. Mort Garson was one of the earliest pioneers of electronic music, and he recorded the album on an old school Moog synthesizer. It’s quirky as hell and it’s interesting, but keep in mind that it was not created for human ears. It was literally imagined to be beneficial for plant growth, and it certainly hits the mark there. I’m not sure if it’s any better for the plants than whatever else you might listen to, but you can give it a shot if you want. I’d personally put the thing on near my plants and go listen to something else in another room, but hey, you like what you like.
Feast your ears upon Mother Earth’s Plantasia below.
In conclusion, if you think plants like music, then you’re probably right. What kind of music they like is up to your interpretation, and also depends on the level of patience you have for listening to music that was specifically created for plants. Plus, on a recent survey of house plants, 90% of them admitted to enjoying the same kind of music as their caretakers. We’re talking about a 90% house plant satisfaction rate here, folks. So just press play and don’t forget to give ’em some water every once in a while.
What do you think, do plants like music?