The Secret Life of Plants

David R. Hershey dh321 at PGSTUMAIL.PG.CC.MD.US
Tue Jan 23 23:53:52 EST 1996

I was not aware there was a video but the experiment you describe is
detailed in the #1 bestselling book of that title by Peter Tompkins and
Christopher Bird. It also contains a lot of other botanical pseudoscience
as does its less successful sequel, Secrets of the Soil. The supposed
beneficial effect of some types of music on plant growth even inspired
Stevie Wonder to release an album of music to grow plants by! Art Galston
wrote a rebuttal to the Secret Life of Plants book titled "The
unscientific method" (1974. Natural History 83(3):18,21,24). 

Most of that type of botanical pseudoscientific research was later tried
by actual plant scientists, who could not confirm the results. I do not
believe a lot of it was published because it represented negative results
that would not look too good on the resume of a legitimate scientist. A
1990 Cell article 60:357-364 reported no effect of music on mRNA changes
that could be induced by touching the plant, Arabidopsis. 

Pseudoscience is a good topic to add interest to botany classes. A 
close-to-pseudoscience theory is hydrotropism, which most college 
textbooks say does not exist but precollege biology books say is valid. 
See Hershey, D.R. 1992. Is hydrotropism all wet? Science Activities 

David R. Hershey
Snail mail: 6700 Belcrest Road #112, Hyattsville, MD 20782-1398

Adjunct Professor, Biology/Horticulture Department
Prince George's Community College, Largo, MD 20772-2199

Email: dh321 at

On 23 Jan 1996 taylorwa at wrote:

> Here is a hot one for you'ns (that is a contraction for 2nd person plural
> like y'all, but is endemic to Western Pennsylvania, from which I hail -
> there is your provincial idiom lesson for the day). I have never seen The
> Secret Life of Plants, but have heard enough about it.  That is the film
> that purportedly demonstrates the "emotional" responses of plants.  A
> "scientist" in a white coat enters a room containing two plants and
> violently chops one to pieces with a knife.  The other plant (the "witness")
> then responds (via deflecting needles when attached to a lie detector or
> some such instrument) to the next entry of a white coated assassin.
> Does anyone know anything about 1) where I might get a copy of this, 2) is
> there any validity to the claims, 3) was it ever replicated (I had heard
> not) . . .?
> It might make a good case study in a botany class involving controls,
> alternative hypotheses, the experimental approach, how science works, etc.
> Wil Taylor
> ********************************************************************************
> Wilson A. Taylor
> Department of Biology
> University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
> Eau Claire, WI  54701
> taylorwa at
> ********************************************************************************

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