If you’re a vegetarian, chances are you have a plant or two somewhere around your house. Let’s not get offended by it now, we love plants and so it’s natural to surround ourselves now and then with some lovely well-rooted companions. And perhaps, maybe we talk to them every so often. Does this help us more, or is it actually more beneficial to them? You may be surprised to learn the science.
Way back in the ancient year of 1986, Prince Charles said in an interview, “I just come and talk to the plants, really. Very important to talk to them; they respond.” Poor guy was mocked for saying something as silly as talking to plants, but turns out years later that studies would prove he wasn’t so loony after all. In fact, studies would soon show that talking to plants does in fact cause an observable difference, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. First, let’s talk science! Because science rules!
A study by the Royal Horticultural Society, also called the RHS, set to prove that plants can hear when we talk and that they like it, at least in terms of increased grow. Taking ten different volunteers, recordings were made for the plants from such works as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (because naturally Darwin needed to be involved). These recordings were then played for the plants at root level for a month and, oddly enough, the plants that had listened to the recordings consistently grew more than the control plants that hadn’t listened to anything. The biggest difference happened to be one plant that grew 1.6cm taller than the control group, ironically listening to Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter Sarah Darwin read his work.
The study concluded that for some reason talking to plants actually does make a difference, and even more interestingly, that female voices are preferred over male voices. But why does that even make sense? A bit more science is needed to straighten things out, this time provided by a study done by South Korea’s National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology. In their study, they learned that right around 70 decibels plants start to show signs of increased growth. By the way, 70 decibels is roughly where normal conversation tends to land on the sound spectrum.
Okay, so sound does work, but why does it work? Well, as it turns out, plants are a tricky folk and have genes that respond to light, the rbcS and Ald genes, which in turn are activated by sound. When the 70 decibels hit them (though studies also suggest they prefer something closer to 92 decibels) the plants respond by turning on more of these light-soaking genes, thus leading to improved growth.
Still, what possible benefit does this have for a plant to have something as critical as its growth patterns effected by sound? Look no further than plants growing in high-wind areas. The windier the area, the shorter and stockier the plant will grow in order to avoid being caught up in the wind too much and to root itself firmly in place. High winds tell the plant to grow short to survive, but the soothing vibrations of female voices could apparently tell plants to grow a few centimeters more a month.
One popular theory, however, doesn’t hold up under science’s harsh glare. Many plant whisperers insist that the carbon dioxide expelled during conversation is what assists in speeding up photosynthesis and thus increases plant growth. Rich Marini, head of Penn State’s horticulture department, debunks this pretty readily by pointing out that you’d have to breath carbon dioxide for a few hours a day on your plant just to potentially increase its growth, making it unlikely.
Regardless of the science, talking to plants clearly doesn’t seem to have any negative effects for either them or us. In fact, talking to plants can be extremely soothing. See, believe what you want, but plants don’t judge and plants don’t talk back. They’re the perfect partner when you need to just sit and vent for a while about your day or your life or that sexy rhododendron that lives down the street. You My not be able to see any noticeable improvement to the plant using the naked eye, but you’ll still know, thanks to science, that your plants are thanking you very, very subtly.