But can plants talk back? New research suggests plants not only respond to sound but communicate with each other with "clicking" noises.

Questions We're Often Asked: Talk to Your Plants

By —— Bio and Archives--October 27, 2018

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Talk to Your Plants
Back in 1986, Prince Charles caused a consternation. “I just come and talk to the plants, really very important . . . They respond I find,” His Royal Highness revealed during a television interview. But floral confabulation is nothing new.

Rewind back to 1848 and the noted German professor Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887). In that year he published Nanna oder Über Das Seelenleben der Pflanzen (Nanna, or About the Soul-life of Plants) popularizing the idea of talking to plants. Written under the pseudonym Dr. Mises, his book went through further editions in his lifetime. Ever-popular, many have followed since, the most recent just last year in 2017. It remains widely available, including from such outlets as Indigo Books & Music.


Philosopher, physicist and experimental psychologist, Fechner was an early pioneer in experimental psychology and inventor of psychophysics, inspiring many 20th-century scientists and philosophers. Despite both his grandfathers having been clergymen and raised in religion by his Lutheran pastor father, he himself claimed to be an atheist. Fechner also wrote satirical pieces as Dr. Mises. Something of a mystic, he believed that the people, volk, stood midway between the souls of plants and the souls of stars, everything being endowed with a soul.

Back to H.R.H. It was a century shy a day following Fechner’s death that Prince Charles made his revelations. Many jeered at that time and have in subsequent years. Some have questioned his fitness to succeed his mother as monarch. Nevertheless he has maintained his position vis-√†-vis plant palaver. Strangely none seem to recall that his ancestor King George III was apparently the first royal to talk to trees.

It took a couple or so decades for researchers at the Royal Horticultural Society to investigate if Prince Charles had something going for him. Volunteers read works of literature to tomato plants. This suggested that talking to plants can make them grow faster—and they are more appreciative of female as opposed to male voices, according to the RHS.

Another two years later, the Prince of Wales again extended himself. He admitted to Alan Titchmarsh in a BBC documentary he talks to trees and plants as if they were his children. Whether William and Harry appreciated this remains unrecorded. Still later he revealed how that he not only talks to his plants but instructs them to help them on their way.

“Is Prince Charles an old fogey who talks to his plants, or a keen environmentalist and social entrepreneur ahead of his time?” wondered CBC’s Janet Davison last year. Science would seem to support the latter view.

Not only the RHS has conducted serious science on the matter. The television series Mythbusters divided groups of 30 pea plants into three greenhouses. Two of the greenhouses had continuous recordings of either loving praise or cruel insults played to the pea plants. The third greenhouse was left silent as a control. After 60 days the silent greenhouse perform poorest. Although there was no difference in quality between the nice greenhouse and the mean greenhouse, the soundtracks seemed to produce a positive effect in both.

W.C. Fields would have appreciated this. He was famously recorded as ordering his rosebush: “Bloom, damn you!” More recently in the world of entertainment, even Garfield the Cat gets in on the act, as his carer Jon Arbuckle tells him: “If you speak nicely to your plants, they grow better, Garfield.” And beloved film star Doris Day continues to talk to her plants—they like it, she says, and grow better.

But can plants talk back? New research suggests plants not only respond to sound but communicate with each other with “clicking” noises. Scientists at Bristol University used powerful loudspeakers to listen to corn saplings—and heard clicking sounds coming from the roots. “Why is this so surprising?” asked an anonymous commentator to The Daily Mail. “We have a bunch of vegetables in government”

Fechner Day is celebrated on 22nd October. Organized by the International Society for Psychophysics it was first held in his home city of Leipzig in 2001. It was on that day in 1850 that he awoke with a new insight that he developed into his psychophysical Fechner scale. In recognition of the distinguished professor’s contribution to conversational horticulture, perhaps Prince Charles would sponsor 22nd October as Talk to Your Plants Day—Natülich.

But who—or what—was Fechner’s ‘Nanna’? In Norse mythology she was a goddess, wife of the god Baldr Also sometimes spelt ‘Nana’, the name occurs in many other religion and myths from around the world. In addition there are numerous such wunderkind in art, cuisine, film, television, music, books and even business. Let’s close horticulturally though with Mentha spicata ‘Nana’, a spearmint cultivar grown in Morocco and known as “Nana mint.”


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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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