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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Tuesday - January 12, 2010

From: Pentwater, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Does music affect sunflower growth from Pentwater MI
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Does music affect sunflower growth?

ANSWER:

This sounds like a Science Fair project. Because Mr. Smarty Plants has in its files an excellent previous answer, we are going to give that answer to you. 

"Mr. Smarty Plants doesn't know if music affects the growth of sunflower plants or any other plants for that matter.  This, however, has been a very popular topic for science fairs.  The problem is that for a science fair project you aren't going to be able to run an experiment that can definitively tell you "yes" or "no". There are too many variables that can interfere.  The popular Discovery Channel TV show, Mythbusters, ran their own experiment to test this and concluded that it is "plausible" that talking helps plants grow.  They also determined that classical music and heavy metal music  made the plants grow better than the control plants that received neither talk nor music. However, David R. Hershey, a botanist and biology education specialist, points out the many errors on the Mythbuster's Experiment on Talking and Music Effects on Plant Growth and demonstrated the pitfalls of conducting a necessarily simple experiment on a complex question.  These pitfalls also await students who are likely have a lot fewer resources to do experiments than Mythbusters did. 

If you have done some searching on the internet, you have probably found references to the The Sound of Music and Plants by Dorothy Retallack.  She wrote that her experiments with plants and music showed that plants respond to different kinds of music—classical music has positive effects and rock music has negative effects (not the same results that the Mythbusters found!).  However, at least one scientist (Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University) questions the science of her experiment and cites this book as a prime example of 'bad science' in her article, The Myth of Absolute Science ("If it's published, it must be true").

So, there is some flawed or pseudoscience out there indicating that music affects the growth of plants.  Is there any real science? There is some indication that sound waves (music is comprised of sound waves) can have an effect on plants—Frank Telewski in his article A Unified Hypothesis of Mechanoperception in Plants, pp. 1468-1469 [American Journal of Botany 93(10):1466-1476. 2006] gives a brief summary of published researchon the effects of sound on plants.  There is another article by Katherine Creath and Gary E. Schwartz,  Measuring Effects of Music, Noise, and Healing Energy Using a Seed Germination Bioassay,  [Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 10 (1):113-122.  2004] that reported music increased seed germination in two plants.  David R. Hershey in [Plant-education] Re: effect of noise pollution on metabolism of plants points out that the authors and experimenters for this article aren't botanists.

Finally, here is a critique on Science Projects on Music and Sound by Professor Ross E. Koning, a botanist, from Eastern Connecticut State University on the Plant Physiology Information Website."

If this question was to help you with a Science Fair project, we suggest that you try another subject with which you can more easily demonstrate results.

 

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