When renowned opera singer Antoinette Halloran and her partner and fellow opera singer, James Egglestone, rehearse in their backyard studio in Melbourne, it appears that it's not just the neighbors who are listening to their singing. A healthy veggie patch surrounds the studio and Antoinette picks "freak crops," ranging from cabbage to zucchini and tomato. Which poses the question: does singing to plants really help them grow?
Anecdotal evidence of unexplained bounty such as this corresponds with the results of international research that shows music has a positive effect on stimulating plant growth.
Dr. Monica Gagliano, a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, believes the relationship between sound and plants is an exciting new field of study.
Although some work has recently been done in this area, it seems that plants have largely been forgotten, says Monica. It's time we started to see plants as dynamic living beings that interact with the environment in complex ways. Sound waves are everywhere, so it seems reasonable to assume plants would be affected by these, too. People love listening to music, and it is often used to help terminal cancer patients, so why couldn't sound affect plants too?
Recent research has shown that some plant genes are regulated by sound, she adds. It showed that if specific sounds were able to regulate or turn genes on and off, this could have enormous benefit for crop production in the future.
In 2004, an article on music and its effect on sprouting seed was published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. In the related study, musical sound played to zucchini and okra seed had a significant effect on germination compared to the control group.
A controlled field and laboratory trial, underway in a Tuscan vineyard, is analyzing how grapevines respond to music being played continuously. The work, being done through the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology under the direction of Professor Stefano Mancuso, aims to determine the response of plants roots and shoots to different sounds.
Monica plans to visit Italy to collaborate with Professor Mancuso on this work. This is a large-scale experiment and so the results will be very exciting, she says.
The results of the study in Tuscany will not only add to the growing body of international research, but they will also be invaluable for Monica's own interest in discovering whether plants emit sound. There's a huge gap in our scientific understanding of this area, she explains.
Monica describes a study in the 1990s that measured low frequency sound emitted by leafy plants. The study showed the emission of sound increased when the plant was under drought stress, but as soon as it was watered sound levels returned to normal.
There is evidence showing that plants use chemical pheromones to communicate and it seems likely that sound is another method they use for communication.
Monica has begun working on experiments on the cues plants use to communicate with interesting results. But it's early in its development, she says.
She is also involved with the Oryn Gham Project, which takes as its main premise the idea that each plant has a unique song with a healing effect on the human body. This invites a major shift in our general perception about plants, she explains.
Monica believes scientific research is important to better understand the relationship between sound and plants, and more about plant songs, as it will help us reconnect with nature.
Away from the rigors of the science lab, Monica enjoys gardening at home. "I'm always talking and humming to my plants. I think they like it," she says.
For the operatic musical score that works for a brilliant crop of zucchini, Antoinette suggests Madame Butterfly as an absolute winner.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.