Does playing music for your houseplants really make them grow?

Sunflowers and guitar
Image via Pikist

Houseplant owners report anecdotally that singing to plants or playing music for them speeds up houseplant growth. While I love the idea that music helps plants grow, logically, I can’t bring myself to believe in the claim: after all, plants grow in all different ways, some of which are not visible to the naked eye. How should a grower, then, be able to judge how quickly a plant is truly growing, much less whether it is growing faster or slower depending on the conditions we provide it with. Over a long period of time, we can definitely measure how well they’ve grown or how quickly they’ve grown, but houseplants are fickle creatures. There are plants that are genetically identical, being propagations of the same mother plant, but grow at different rates despite being given the exact same conditions. Thus, it seems to be an odd claim because measurement of outcomes is so imprecise and there’s so much space for error. Of course, I believe that growers should grow their plants however they see fit (provided the plants stay alive). If they believe that plants grow better when exposed to music, then they should be allowed to play music for their plants regardless of whether it makes a tangible difference or not. However, in this post, I’ll be collating, evaluating and discussing some research findings on whether plants truly grow better in response to music.

According to Chowdury and Gupta (1999), who tested the effects of music on the growth of marigolds. If you look at their study, it seems as though the treatment conditions resulted in significantly different outcomes for the plants in each condition, and the ones exposed to music as opposed to random sounds definitely looked healthier. However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that there are several issues with the study. There is no numerical comparison at all of the biomass, the leaf size and the rate of growth, and the study has an exceedingly small sample size for comparison, with only two plants per condition. This doesn’t discredit the findings of the study completely, but it suggests that there is need for further replication of the study with numerical comparison of samples with numerical measures taken before and after growing in the presence of music in comparison to a control sample of more than 30 plants grown in the absence of music, thus facilitating statistical normality of rate of growth in the control condition. Thus, growth rate in the experimental condition could be mapped onto the growth rate of the control condition to ascertain whether the differences between the two are statistically significant.

The problem with this study, and many other similar studies is that even if music stimulated vegetative growth of the leaves, does this mean that music is good for a plant’s health holistically? The answer isn’t actually as simple as you may think. According to Petrescu et al. (2017), music aided in the germination of plants, but over time, it caused plants to flop over under their own weight. Petrescu and her colleagues suggested that this was an effect of the music being too loud, or that the plants were exposed to music for too many hours of the day. This may well be the case, but in that case, why did the seeds that were exposed to music actually germinate more quickly, but only deteriorate as they got larger? It can be inferred that it is a possibility that the music was linked to larger leaf size and shorter germination times. However, it is likely that the plants’ other structures were not equally developed, or that the density of organic material was not as great as in the control condition without music.

Creath and Schwartz (2004) linked this growth to the healing energy and powers of music. As a great lover of music, I wish I could say that this is the most likely explanation, but I would argue that the link between vegetative growth and exposure to music is a result of other, more tangible, biological factors. For example, vibrations in the air as a result of song-like sounds in nature often come from birdsong and the chirping of insects. Thus, it is perhaps more plausible to suggest that the vibrations in the air trigger hormonal changes in plants, with birdsong indicating that the sun is out, and that there are potential pollinators near. Meanwhile, the presence of insects may indicate the presence of pollinators as well as the threat of being eaten by pests. It is an established scientific finding that plants are capable of up-regulating or down-regulating certain types of growth and the release or hormones and chemicals in response to cues which indicate the presence of pollinators and pests (War et al., 2018). Thus, I would suggest that music may be able to induce vegetative growth, but it does not holistically ensure the health of our plants.

PS. I’m sorry I totally bastardised APA 7th in this post for my citations, but given that I can hyperlink the original articles, I don’t see the need to provide a reference list that is separate from my in-text citations 🙂

Published by plantboye

Tech illiterate and pretending to be proud of it.

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