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Dr Green

Doctor, can my plants hear music?

Dr Green

Words by Dr Green

Photos by Jaap Scheeren

Hello Doctor,

One month ago my boyfriend moved in with me so my apartment has had a rather major identity overhaul. It looks great! There’s just one thing: my plant collection. Most of my them live in the living room where my boyfriend has installed his speakers which he uses to listen to techno music (very loudly), and I’m worried that this will have a bad impact on them. Can plants hear music and are they affected by this?

Love, Joost (29)

Hi Joost,

What is going on in the minds of our cats, dogs and babies? People have been asking this question for decades.

To answer your question we have to look at plant neurobiology, a field of study which investigates whether plants are able to sense sounds, touch and gravity. According to Stefano Mancuso, director of the International Laboratory for Plant Neurobiology, plants do not sense things in the same way humans do. They have evolved to be consumed by other living organisms and therefore have become desensitised to feeling physical pain or pleasure.

However, according to some studies, plants do react to sounds. Researchers at the University of Missouri discovered that Rock Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) could recognise sounds which might be threatening to their existence. After being exposed to a recording of a caterpillar chewing on a leaf, the plant produced a more poisonous chemical to defend itself. Another test carried out by the Institute of Mancuso found that the roots of young maize plants were visibly responding to disturbing noises.

Now, to come back to your question: Are your plants (negatively) affected by your boyfriend’s techno music? Probably not. Perhaps to a minor extent if your boyfriend’s music sounds similar to a feeding caterpillar.

So unless there is another reason for why you don’t approve of your boyfriend’s music, I’d just sit back and enjoy it…

The Doc



Got a question of your own? Ask the doctor: drgreen@letitgrow.org

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Stefano Mancuso on stage