I recently came across an odd vinyl album on Hebden Bridge flea market called Music for Plants by the Baroque Bouquet (pictured above). The record’s back sleeve claims that playing it to your plants will keep your plants happy and healthy. What kind of music do plants like? Well, that was worth coughing up my pound and buying the LP.
Plants’ musical tastes are helpfully clarified by the album’s sleeve notes. Apparently, a number of experimental chambers were created in which plants were played different kinds of music with all other conditions being kept equal, and the results were clear.
Plants love Bach and classical Indian sitar music and grow better when exposed to it. On the other hand, plants can’t stand acid rock or percussive music.
If everything you grow tends to wither and die, it’s probably all that loud acid rock you’re playing. Instead try Bach, Ravi Shankar or this album of light baroque music with some gurgling synth flourishes. ‘We know,’ the sleeve notes tell us, ‘our music will stimulate a favourable response within your growing plants.’
Anyway, the record inspired me to survey the academic literature to see if there was any more recent research on the effects of music on plants, and there’s rather a lot. Most of the studies detailed experiments similar to the one described on the album’s back sleeve. Researchers played different genres of music to plants over a certain period of time then compared these plants’ growth rates, number of shoots, size of flowers and various other metrics with a control sample of the same plants grown in silence.
I’ve had a look at seventeen of those studies so you don’t have to. The plants and flowers used in the studies included peppers, lettuce, wheat, marigolds, orchids, broccoli, spinach, roses and several others.[i]
The types of music used in the experiments varied, but plants showed positive results when exposed to Indian sitar music, western classical music, Indonesian gamelan and sung verses from the Koran. These results are similar in a number of studies.
Oddly, the studies that found that plants grow best when exposed to Indian (and western classical) music were all conducted in India. The studies showing that plants grow best when exposed to Indonesian gamelan music were conducted in…. you guessed it. And studies showing plants responded best to recordings of recitals from the Koran were conducted in Islamic countries. In fact, much of the research in this area seems to be from India and Indonesia.
Rhythm and Greens
But when it comes to music that has a negative effect on plants, six of the research papers came to the same conclusion – plants hate rock music. In two papers, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC were named and shamed for their deleterious effect.
The paper about AC/DC deserves special attention, though, as it hints at a possible explanation for why plants don’t rock n’ roll. The study by Barton et al was brilliantly titled ‘Testing the AC/DC hypothesis: Rock and roll is noise pollution and weakens a trophic cascade’ and was published in 2018 in the journal Ecology and Evolution. The authors tested AC/DC’s ‘hypothesis’ that ‘Rock n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ by exposing an ecosystem consisting of soybean plants, the aphids that fed on the plants and the beetles that fed on the aphids to various sources of urban noise pollution including AC/DC’s hit song of the same name.[ii]
The results showed that when exposed to rock music the beetles became less effective predators, meaning the aphid population grew and the plant suffered resulting in reduced biomass. The authors don’t know why AC/DC’s music had such an effect, but they consider the hypothesis ‘Rock n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ to have been refuted. Rock ‘n’ roll, it seems, is noise pollution.
So what explains plants’ apparent dislike for rock? Perhaps the vibrations of the beat, the throbbing bass or the high pitched screams of the lead guitar impact the plants in some way. Perhaps it’s all of the above scaring away the predators that eat the pests that eat the plants.
And what about plants’ penchant for the music of the country where the experiments were conducted? Is this down to methodological flaws and experimenter bias, or are plants just rather conservative in their taste?
Who knows. As for my LP of plant music, I’m hoping it grows on me.
[i] Sorry, there’s no way I’m going to reference all seventeen of those studies. Stick ‘music for plants’ or something into Google Scholar and you’ll find them if you’re that desperate!
[ii] Brandon T. Barton ‘Testing the AC/DC hypothesis: Rock and roll is noise pollution and weakens a trophic cascade’, Ecology and Evolution, 8(15) pp.7649-7656. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4273