The Argument for talking to your plants
The jury of scientists is still out on how sound affects plants. Considering that plants share some of the same senses humans do — sight, smell, touch, memory, awareness of themselves in space — it wouldn’t be a stretch to think that they can hear, too. And that because they can hear, that they might enjoy hearing your thoughts and compliments. Overall, though, it seems pretty unlikely that plants can hear.
On a connected note, however, scientists are now looking at whether the vibrations produced by sound affect plants (but this doesn’t extend to playing your plants music, a heavily debunked theory).
In What a Plant Knows (2013), Daniel Chamovitz notes that there’s little conclusive evidence regarding a plant’s response to sound. The question has intrigued many scientists, including Charles Darwin, who played his bassoon to see if its sound would make the Mimosa pudica (the “sensitive plant” that folds when touched) close — it didn’t. Chamovitz looks at a number of studies related to music and plants, noting that even the buzzing of bees near a plant doesn’t generate the release of pollen from its flower (the flower must physically feel the vibrating bumblebee — it cannot “hear” it).
Yet a study published in Oecologia in 2014 reports that sound vibrations caused by insect feedings can elicit a chemical response from plants. They note that the Arabidopsis thaliana was able to discriminate between vibrations caused by wind and those by caterpillars that regularly feed on the plant. When the plant recognized the vibrations of the caterpillar, it released mustard oils, which would repel the caterpillar, an obvious benefit to be plant that needs to keep its leaves in tact to optimally benefit from photosynthesis. The discussion concludes that vibrations may complement a number of other traits that plants have developed to interpret and respond to their environments. If the authors of the report can determine how the plant reacts to specific vibrations (and not others), then we’ll be in business.
Our voices wouldn’t have cause to induce a response in plants, as — evolutionarily — we’re neither friend nor foe to our green friends in our homes. So the argument for talking to your plants really lies in the fact that plants are incredibly beneficial to our mental and emotional health. The more time you spend interacting with greenery and the more you feel you are nurturing your houseplants, even by singing or whispering or chatting while you water or repot or dust leaves, the happier you will be. It increases a sense of connection to nature, and that is the best reason of all to talk to your plants. They already know how to grow.