I was intrigued by Jrld's comment last week that "maybe we might have some WFMUcentric posts about music/sound/plant growth next?"
He even mentioned "The Secret Life of Plants", Peter Tompkins' and Christopher Bird's bestseller from a decade of equally weird and wonderful bestsellers like Erick von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods". Was God an alien? Can plants think and feel? Would that macrame plant holder look better next to the black light poster or over by the pet rock?
An entire generation waited with bated, bancha tea scented breath.
Last week I was accused, variously, of being quite literally a lunatic for entertaining the notion that there might be something interesting in planting according to the moon's cycles and related zodiac houses. Some suggested I might have a point. Others were just plain baffled.
I confess to feeling that way about "The Secret Life of Plants".
It's that last bit that makes me stop and think, "Excuse me? Say what now?" Some years ago, I qualified as a massage therapist, and part of that training was a pretty thorough study of the central nervous system, the brain and the limbic system. To put it very simply the nerves record temperature, pressure and pain and these responses are conveyed via the central nervous system to the brain where they are interpreted and a reaction occurs: brrrrr, ahhhhh, yummy, ouch and so on.
The limbic system, located at the top of the nasal passage and just in front of the brain translates chemicals caught up in the mucus membranes of the nose and sends them to the part of the brain associated with memory to be interpreted as good, bad, dangerous, or, if you're Marcel Proust, your entire childhood in the form of a novel.
Much has been written about love being a chemical reaction based on pheromones, and touch therapy has its adherents.
Without a central nervous system or a brain to interpret that data, you're pretty much out on a limb, or indeed a stem, when it comes to feeling. You're pretty much in the arena of vibrations and apt to start singing Beach Boys' songs slightly off-key.
Plants do of course respond to the vibrations of the air around them - the wind rustling their leaves and stems stimulates root growth, and many gardeners regularly tussle the leaves of seedlings in passing to get them started in this habit. They also respond to light in the form of photosynthesis. Whether they have any kind of emotional response to that is another matter entirely.
Jrld supplied a link to a New Scientist article whereby a South Korean biochemist Mi-Jeong Jeong of the National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology in his native country claims to have identified two genes present in plants which respond to sound waves.
Others have noted similar experiments with plants and sound waves: Dorothy Retallack in "The Sound of Music and Plants", the aforementioned Tompkins and Bird, and so on.
The hypothesis is that sound waves produce a physical energy which then travels through a medium of water, air, and solids, and then the speed, volume and penetration of that energy determines the effect it has on the plant. Quite simply it's like a repeated and greater tussling of leaves and stems.
Which is why, if you go to see The Who at the Brighton Centre in 2006, and you stand in front of the bass speaker when Zak Starkey does the drum-roll at the beginning of "Who Are You", you are inclined to fall over and have to fight the urge to throw up.
Far too many bad vibes, man.
But that still begs the question as to whether
- a) your plants feel anything in the emotional sense, or
- b) are experiencing anything over and above what the wind does when it rustles them naturally.
It's rather like the craze of talking to your plants - they respond to you, claimed the advocates. Of course they did, said the cynics, you're breathing carbon dioxide all over them.
I suspect that the experiments with sound waves, or rather more specifically playing music to plants, has more to do with the emotional response felt by the gardener. When you listen to your favourite music as you potter away planting, weeding and generally being rather whole earth and jolly, you feel good and you relax. You also focus on the moment. A relaxed, happy gardener, fully in the moment is going to be a better gardener and do all the things that they're supposed to do in order for the plant to grow properly, rather than just bung some seeds in a pot and bugger off.
It's a no-brainer really - which is coincidentally exactly what plants are.