Singing to plants: opera in the veggie patch

Opera Australia's Antoinette Halloran sings to a growing audience in her backyard.

When renowned soprano Antoinette Halloran and her partner, fellow opera singer James Egglestone, rehearse in their backyard studio in Melbourne, it appears it’s not just the neighbours who are listening. The hours of practice have produced an unexpected bonus – thriving vegetables. It seems Antoinette has unknowingly tapped into an exciting new field of plant growth stimuli.

Antoinette reports that each season she has picked “freak crops” of vegetables, ranging from red cabbages to tomatoes and zucchinis.

Anecdotal evidence of unexplained bounty such as this corresponds exactly with 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.

“It’s time we started to see plants as dynamic living beings that interact with the environment in complex ways,” she says.

“Recent research has shown that some plant genes are regulated by sound. The research showed that if specific sounds were able to regulate or turn genes on and off, this could have enormous benefit for crop production in future,” she says.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2004 published an article about music and its effect on sprouting seed. The article explained that the aim of five experiments with okra and zucchini seed was to show that musical sound, played to the seed, would promote germination. And the results showed that it had a significant effect on the number of seed that sprouted compared to the control group.

Another exciting project is underway in a Tuscan vineyard where a controlled field and laboratory trial to analyse how grapevines respond to continuously playing music is underway. The work is being done through the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology under the direction of Professor Stefano Mancuso. The aim is to analyse the response of the plant’s roots and shoots to different sounds.

Dr Gagliano will be visiting 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.

Away from the science laboratory Dr Gagliano enjoys gardening in her backyard plot. “I’m always talking and humming to my plants, and I think they like it,” she says.

But for the operatic musical score that works for a brilliant crop of zucchinis, Antoinette Halloran suggests Madama Butterfly. “That’s what I was rehearsing this year and it was a freak crop,” she says.

Antoinette Halloran performs in Opera Australia's La bohème, opening in Sydney July 12. See event details here. For more on singing to your plants read the ABC's Gardening Australia magazine July 2011 issue.

Limelight's Annual Opera Issue is also available. 



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Singing to plants: opera in the veggie patch
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