It’s 2020 and plants are the new pets that used to be the new children. We dote upon and adore our houseplants like our momma’s mommas did our… mommas. And well we should. We have been ravaging ecosystems, manipulating plants to our own ends and industrializing their production for a few millenia now, and the least we can do to make up for it is treat a few plants to their best possible lives. Music is as good a way as any to do this.
Mother Earth’s Plantasia by Mort Garson, a synthesized new age wonder released in 1976 for plants’ listening pleasure, has lately been re-released by Sacred Bones Records, and it suddenly seems I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know about it. Plantasia sounds just like the soundtrack to the SEGA Genesis game Fantasia, a 16-bit ode to the Disney opus of the same name. That was 1994. So in its way, Plantasia was mighty ahead of its time, musically. But it’s hard for me to imagine plants, who I totally believe love music in their way, were then or are now into this album. That said, I’m grateful that Sacred Bones, incidentally one of my favorite record labels, has re-opened the notion of music for plants in the mouths, minds, and hearts of plant parents across the nation.
There have been myriad questionable scientific studies over the years regarding the effect of music on plants, and I choose to believe in them, questioningly. Science would have us believe that high frequency sound waves agitate plant cells’ inner workings and alter plant growth patterns, and that music waves make plant stomata—basically their lungs—stay open longer and therefore take in more air and grow better.
Science would also have us believe that plants prefer certain kinds of music to others. Western classical music, especially Bach, makes plants grow taller and bloom harder. But it’s eastern classical music, specifically North Indian raga music, that gets plants going most fiercely. Of course it is. A central tenet informing raga is that the human psyche is profoundly affected by nature’s rhythms and daily biological cycles. As above, so below. In my early farming days, I religiously played classical Indian music to myself and my plants as I toiled in the soil, and if I wasn’t so podcast addicted these days, I’d still be doing it.
While classical music has been studied and pseudo-proven to affect plant growth more thoroughly than other styles of sound, I’m pleased to report that studies show jazz and metal are also generally beloved by plants and help them grow greener, fuller, and tastier. On the metal front, go hard or go home; cathartic metal of the sort that is meditative (to those of us who feel it that way) tends to be the only metal plants like: black, stoner, doom, and the like. All loud, guitar-centric rock music that falls outside of this small subset has been proven time and again to make plants cringe and shrink. AC/DC, who is the worst rock band ever in my opinion, is also the worst rock band ever in plants’ opinion. Their music has been shown to disrupt and mangle entire ecosystems in cruel scientific studies on the subject.
I, as a person who is around plants a lot, tend these days to listen to mostly weird ambient and electronic music, the sort of stuff Mort Garson might have made today given the tools and subcultural zeitgeist of now. There is very little science around this music’s effect on plants, but I blast it regularly, gently when amongst my babies, and I am a firm believer that the plants are huge fans. And really, that is all that matters. Belief. Belief and caring.
Plants are like people in that they can feel intention. I know that sounds next level woowoo, even for me, but there’s no denying that our approach to one another directly affects how we feel about each other. And plants are the same. Play music that makes you feel good to plants because you want the plants to feel good too. Beyond the music, talk to your plants, not like you care about them, but because you care about them. Touch your plants with loving intention, not like a creep. They’ll know the difference.
Intention can get iffy when you’re growing vegetables or herbs, because your intention is eventually to murder or at least maim them. But like the pigs that get names on family farms—who spend their days rolling in mud and joyfully eating organic slop to their hearts’ content—just because their end is hard and fast and a little bit scary doesn’t mean their lives up until that point can’t be full of loving, caring kindness from their eventual butchers in the meantime.
On the other side of plants and music, musicians, artists, and scientists have been hooking up devices to plants so that we can “hear” them for years now. This long-standing trend has arguably become a lot more genuine in the last couple years; and if nothing else, it pretty much validates everything I just said about intention. Different plants put out different tones depending on the person who is around them, their familiarity with that person, that person’s mood, how they physically interact with or talk to the plant, and how they have treated or are treating the other plants around said plant. To flip the scripts a little further, the tones these plant speaking devices put out are by and large extremely calming. Of course that is absolutely a result of the sound engineers who built these devices in the first place, but yet and still. Plant music can help us feel good just like people music can make plants feel good. And anyway the plant music has always been there even without fancy devices. You just have to listen.
Plantasia will look great on your mantle or at the forefront of your record collection. If you feel lovingly toward that album and love listening to it, surely your plants will too. Love your plants. Love on your plants. Play plants the music you love—but not for too long, and not too loud—and watch their happiness bloom before you, slowly but certainly.
Contact Ian@hotplantsnursery.com | illustrations Rachel Speck