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The Plant Experiments

In 1973, a woman named Dorothy Retallack published a small book called The Sound of Music and Plants. Her book detailed experiments that she had been conducting at the Colorado Woman’s College in Denver using the school’s three Biotronic Control Chambers. Mrs. Retallack placed plants in each chamber and speakers through which she played sounds and particular styles of music. She watched the plants and recorded their progress daily. She was astounded at what she discovered.

Her first experiment was to simply play a constant tone. In the first of the three chambers, she played a steady tone continuously for eight hours. In the second, she played the tone for three hours intermittently, and in the third chamber, she played no tone at all. The plants in the first chamber, with the constant tone, died within fourteen days. The plants in the second chamber grew abundantly and were extremely healthy, even more so than the plants in the third chamber. This was a very interesting outcome, very similar to the results that were obtained from experiments performed by the Muzak Corporation in the early 1940s to determine the effect of "background music" on factory workers. When music was played continuously, the workers were more fatigued and less productive, when played for several hours only, several times a day, the workers were more productive, and more alert and attentive than when no music was played.

Dorothy Retallack and Professor Broman working with the plants used in music experiments.

Dorothy Retallack and Professor Broman working with the plants used in music experiments.

For her next experiment, Mrs. Retallack used two chambers (and fresh plants). She placed radios in each chamber. In one chamber, the radio was tuned to a local rock station, and in the other the radio played a station that featured soothing "middle-of-the-road" music. Only three hours of music was played in each chamber. On the fifth day, she began noticing drastic changes. In the chamber with the soothing music, the plants were growing healthily and their stems were starting to bend towards the radio! In the rock chamber, half the plants had small leaves and had grown gangly, while the others were stunted. After two weeks, the plants in the soothing-music chamber were uniform in size, lush and green, and were leaning between 15 and 20 degrees toward the radio. The plants in the rock chamber had grown extremely tall and were drooping, the blooms had faded and the stems were bending away from the radio. On the sixteenth day, all but a few plants in the rock chamber were in the last stages of dying. In the other chamber, the plants were alive, beautiful, and growing abundantly.

"Chaos, pure chaos": plants subjected to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix didn't survive

"Chaos, pure chaos": plants subjected to Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix didn't survive

Mrs. Retallack’s next experiment was to create a tape of rock music by Jimi Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge, and Led Zeppelin. Again, the plants turned away from the music. Thinking maybe it was the percussion in the rock music that was causing the plants to lean away from the speakers, she performed an experiment playing a song that was performed on steel drums. The plants in this experiment leaned just slightly away from the speaker; however not as extremely as did the plants in the rock chambers. When she performed the experiment again, this time with the same song played by strings, the plants bent towards the speaker.

Next Mrs. Retallack tried another experiment again using the three chambers. In one chamber she played North Indian classical music performed by sitar and tabla, in another she played Bach organ music, and in the third, no music was played. The plants "liked" the North Indian classical music the best. In both the Bach and sitar chambers, the plants leaned toward the speakers, but he plants in the Indian music chamber leaned toward the speakers the most.

She went on to experiment with other types of music. The plants showed no reaction at all to country and western music, similarly to those in silent chambers. However, the plants "liked" the jazz that she played them. She tried an experiment using rock in one chamber, and "modern" (dischordant) classical music of negative composers Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern in another. The plants in the rock chamber leaned 30 to 70 degrees away from the speakers and the plants in the modern classical chamber leaned 10 to 15 degrees away.

I spoke with Mrs. Retallack about her experiments a few years after her book was published, and at that time I began performing my own experiments with plants using a wood-frame and clear-plastic-covered structure that I had built in my back yard. For one month, I played three-hours-a-day of music from Arnold Schönberg’s negative opera Moses and Aaron, and for another month I played three-hours-a-day of the positive music of Palestrina. The effects were clear. The plants subjected to Schönberg died. The plants that listened to Palestrina flourished.

In these experiments, albeit basic and not fully scientific, we have the genesis of a theory of positive and negative music. What is it that causes the plants to thrive or die, to grow bending toward a source of sound or away from it?

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IDK, I think that Mrs. Retallack may have been on to something when towards the end of her studies she stated that she thought plants could feel, and were capable of ESP, since they appeared to detect her bias. She felt perhaps it was the lyrical content of the rock music that affected the plants negatively. Hmm...I have not noticed this negative effect from rock music of the 60's or 70's. Though lots of Floyd does seem to cause an early onset of flowering...

My plants seem to thrive equally well, whether listening to brutal vegan grindcore, or Cuban jazz. They are often subjected to many hours of me playing guitar, sometimes at ear splitting volumes, sometimes soft and gentle with equal results. (Though they do appear to favor the sound or vibrations coming out of my tube amp equipment, and seem to prefer solid state amplifiers much less so :)

From Mozart to Morbid Angel, they seem to like it all? Maybe it's the new Klipsch speakers? Who knows.

Some weeks I listen to a lot of disturbing 'noise-core' like The Locust, or Minch. Though this does freak my wife out a bit, I've never had any plants die on me. Will have to get a hold of some Schonberg though...wonder if it's the vibrations themselves that have the effect and not the tones?

Well I know the bit about the factory workers and the music full time is probably simply due to noise fatigue.  Being in a noisy environment causes fatigue.  Having the variation of some music for part of the day and some "quieter time" the rest would definitely help.

Vibrations definitely affect plants.  EM radiation may also have an effect.  I wonder if the plants think they are leaning into the light?

Please tell me these were both serious, true statements.


Vlad Jovanovic said:

Though lots of Floyd does seem to cause an early onset of flowering...

 they do appear to favor the sound or vibrations coming out of my tube amp equipment, and seem to prefer solid state amplifiers much less so

This discussion actually has me a little worried... the ESP part mostly.  I am a very angsty person and I have a kitten who has grown up to be a very angsty cat.  Will the same happen to my plants?

You know Vlad, if the plants like all your music, maybe you should play music you really hate - test that ESP theory. :)

Here if your unfamiliar i recommend you check these out. Interesting stuff similar to what your talking about. However it also opens up some very disturbing possibilities as well.

and excuse the documentary its a little slow at times. 

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Life-Plants-Peter-Tompkins/dp/0060915870

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-secret-life-of-plants/

Ellen...I wouldn't worry about it too much. Unruly plants are much, much easier to deal with than angry kittens :)

I sooner think that my perception of time slows down and distorts while listening to Pink Floyd, and hence I perceive the flowering to take place sooner/quicker but, anything's possible :)

And I think that most anything alive prefers the complex sound waves (that are actual waves) with all the harmonic and sub-harmonic interplay that is present in analogue (tube) sound reproduction, as opposed to the jagged and square 'waves' of solid state or digital sound reproduction...This I do believe. Even plants have that much sense :)

I'm not saying that plants are not effected by sound, just that I don't really think they have a 'musical' preference in the way that we humans (or even possibly animals) do. Again, maybe its something to do with the vibrations, and/or waves themselves?

IDK...I would have to find some music that neither of us like so the plants couldn't telepathically just latch onto the good vibes coming from my better half :) Though I 'like' music that I don't 'like' (to a degree) as it gives me a chance to explore what it is exactly that I don't like about it (if that makes any sense). 

Hey did anyone catch the documentary type show from like 20 years back where they claim to have caught a killer with the help of an office plant?

The murder was in an office building over the weakend...no witnesses.

Researchers at a nearby University were studying plants by hooking them up to some type of 'electrodes'. A little container of brine shrimp was set to spill on a timer. The plants would "freak-out" when the brine shrimp spilt and died.

So the cops let the researchers hook up the office plant, and paraded suspects past the door in which the plant was. The plant freaked out on one guy. Later said guy admits to murder. Anyone?

Ellen Roelofs said:

Please tell me these were both serious, true statements.


Vlad Jovanovic said:

Though lots of Floyd does seem to cause an early onset of flowering...

 they do appear to favor the sound or vibrations coming out of my tube amp equipment, and seem to prefer solid state amplifiers much less so

This discussion actually has me a little worried... the ESP part mostly.  I am a very angsty person and I have a kitten who has grown up to be a very angsty cat.  Will the same happen to my plants?

You know Vlad, if the plants like all your music, maybe you should play music you really hate - test that ESP theory.

did he spill brine shrimp during the crime?

Hehe...no but according to the show he did spill some beans...I saw this a super long time ago as a kid, so some details might be foggy. But I'm certain that, that was the gist of it. I remember their claim well...That is, plants can feel and have emotions ESP etc.... It kind of freaked me out in an H.P Lovecraft sort of way...All those times that I thought I was 'alone' in the room...I was also officially out of a food source (that didn't last long though)...

I don't know about a real murder case but there was a movie like that : The Kirlian Witness (1979)

Cleve Backster, who instituted the Central Intelligence Agency's polygraph program in 1948, did some experiments on plants. He would hook a plant to his lying detector and record reactions when threatening or arming the plant, or even another plant (not hooked to the polygraph). I recall an experiment where there were two plants (rhododendrons I think) : One guy comes in the room and reduces one of the plants to pulp with a stick and leaves the room. The other plant (in another pot, no root connections) goes wild on the polygraph. Then it's when it starts to be interesting, different persons get in the room one by one, without causing any reaction on the polygraph, but when the "murderer" gets in the plant's polygraph goes wild again. 


So may be we could use this to get faster flowering and fruiting.... Like "You saw what I did to your friend the tomato ? Now you better flower big time or you gonna get it as well !"


Seriously I am quite interested with the music effects. Plants growing at an angle toward or away from the speaker is quite impressive. If true it is amazing because it means that plants would take gravity and light as the least important factor regarding their direction of growth when confronted with music (!?) ... 


Vlad I wouldn't be surprised that your plants prefer tube amps... All this seems to point in the same direction. No need to go into ESP. May be it's just that the plants vibrate with the sound waves and that harmonious vibrations (good playing equipment and harmonious music) somehow have a good effect at a cellular level.


Right now I am designing a greenhouse, bio-shelter style, in which I want to pack as many tricks and processes, aquaponics, pee-ponics, plants and small livestock, BSF, biogas, composting etc and any smart organic techniques I can find ... I think I will add the music... Very little energy consumption. As TC mentioned, silent breaks should be better. Two hours music then two hours of silence. The night will be silent as well...

I've been looking for more scientific papers on the subject and it seems that the results are consistently in favor of the theory that music affects plants and can improve yield or even reduce germinating time. So why not use this factor ? 

Another quite rigorous scientific paper on the effect of music on germination : EFFECTS OF MUSICAL SOUND ON THE GERMINATION OF SEEDS

Or at least for the musicians here, why not do your practice routine in the green-house ? All this music hitting unresponsive walls instead of plants could be considered a waste of resources :)


Do you happen to know if Mrs. Retallak played the music exclusively while the lights were on, or during 'dark' time, or both? 

Yeah, I might be confusing the movie with the documentary show. Or maybe the documentary show made use in part  somehow of the movie. ( Once I had thought about it, it has been 25+ years ago that I watched that. Geez I'm getting old :)

IDK, both the CIA as well as the KGB were into some pretty wild 'research' in those days gone by (as if much has changed)...ESP, telepathy, mind control, plant sentience, MK-Ultra blablabla...some (a lot) of it turned out to be bunk, some of it 'modern' day products and 'medicine/medical devices' are based on today...

Music is a powerful thing. Frequencies and sound displayed in patterns of harmonious or discordant arrangements are indisputably attractive or repellent to many creatures with auditory sensory equipment. But how does this affect plants? What is it exactly that they are reacting to? Even though I might balk a bit at Mrs. Retallack's explanation of "perhaps plants are reacting negatively to the lyrical content of acid rock" (IDK her personally, maybe she said this in jest and her statements were later misrepresented?)...I do believe that sound can effect plants. How? I haven't the foggiest. (Well at least not anything that would have a scientific leg to stand on). But if you notice something, why not pursue it, or use it to your (at least perceived if nothing else) advantage? People throughout  history have done all sorts of advantageous things in many areas of life without at that time and place in our development knowing the exact mechanisms of what was going on and why... 

Vlad, I too have noticed Pink Floyd causing an early onset of flowering, and continued flowering on into the night.

So in the interest of science, I subjected a test bed to 3 hrs of Billy Ray Cyrus. I wasn't surprised to see an immediate wilt and paling of color. What was shocking however, was that when Achy Breaky Heart began to play, the pepper plants actually inverted, leaves moved like paddles swimming down into the hydroton, exposing the root mass which would quiver with each repeat of the chorus. I thought the worst was over, but then I saw the march of red worms climbing the side if the growbed like the Trail of Tears, ending in a suicide leap at the edge like lemmings. I'm a believer!

3 HOURS!!! Have you no HEART man! Those poor poor things...

 

Sacrifices have to be made, in the interest of science.

I would sure like to hear of results from the same test as Mrs. Retallack, same music, same volume, etc., but performed by someone who loved Led Zep and Hendryx, and despised "easy listening". Her reported results are so dramatic (though clearly not as dramatic as mine) that the ESP possibility is really substantial, and measurable. Despite my sarcasm, I'm really a believer. I hope it's ESP related, though, and not actually rock/jazz, as I'm not sure I could handle my own greenhouse with Kenny G blaring.

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