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Crazy talking with plants

Back in the 1970s, talking, singing or even playing plants their own music was kitsch. Thirty years on, are your house and garden plants suffering in silence? Or do you secretly sing them a little ditto or tell them a story?

You can expect that a few gardeners have the odd conversation with their prized plants. “My, how you have grown,” one might say under his breath.

While a fully-fledged – if one-sided – conversation with a tomato plant might be a bit looney, can it really help them grow?

The idea that talking or singing to plants helps them grow came over a century before the faddy 70s ideas. German philosophy professor Gustav Theodor Fechner was promoting the idea of talking to plants way back in the mid-1800s.

In his book Nanna (translated as Soul Life of Plants ) Fechner reasoned that plants were capable of emotions, just like humans, and you could promote healthy growth by showering your plants with attention and talk.

A breath of toxic air 

Science can’t deny that talking to plants could help them grow, but for reasons other Fechner offered. All plants need carbon dioxide to grow, so when you talk to a plant, you give it a direct dose as you exhale. True, you would have to speak intimately with your green friends for several hours a day in order for your breath to provide a therapeutically significant amount of CO2, but the scientific basis is there, so if you have something to get off your chest, a plant will enjoy listening to you.

History of green talk

Luther Burbank, a renowned US botanist, claimed that plants are capable of understanding the meaning of speech and communicating with humans. Burbank recorded his ideas in his book Training of the Human Plant in 1907.

In 1959 the Reverend Franklin Loehr published The Power of Prayer on Plants. He claimed that plants that receive prayer and meditation grow more rapidly and retain health longer.

In 1970, George Milstein, a New York dentist, released his classic album, Music to Grow Plants By , a collection of songs to play for your plants. In fact, a few studies seem to conclude that classical or soothing music benefits plants, while loud aggressive music, like rock, may cause them to wither and die.

More recently, in The Secret Life of Plants , authors Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird explored the attributes of plants and pretty much concluded they have everything in common with animals, except plants probably came first on the evolutionary ladder and prepared the way for animals. Among other things, the book studies human communication with plants, plants’ ability to adapt to human wishes and plants’ response to music.

To talk or not to talk?

Ultimately, there is little concrete evidence that talking to your plants or playing music for them will help them to grow. In fact, while botanists know that plants have a nervous system and can respond to stimuli, they do not believe in the benefit of talking to plants.

However, if you enjoy it, by all means do it. Just don’t let the neighbours catch you singing the Bee Gees to your rose bushes.

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