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outdoor music improves plant growth

Article reproduced from: Re. Wired.com/science discoveries

grape expectations: vines may love vivaldi

by Nicole Martinelli 06.28.07 | 2:00 AM

Estate owner Carlo Cignozzi enjoys the Il Paradiso di Frassina house red next to an outdoor speaker used to pump music into the vineyards.


Photo: Courtesy of Il Paradiso di Frassina

Just in through the grapevine: Music helps grow healthier plants.

That's the preliminary result of research by Italian scientists who have been examining vineyards exposed to classical music to see if sound makes the plants grow larger and more quickly.

While sound has long been thought to influence plant growth, this is the first time anyone has investigated the effects of music outdoors on Sangiovese vines, which are best known for producing grapes that go into Tuscany's famous Chiantis.

The effect of sound on plants apparently depends on frequency, intensity and exposure time. In 2001, Chinese researchers found that low-frequency sound does not damage cell structure but instead activates enzymes, increases cell-membrane fluidity and promotes DNA replication and cell cycling.

The testing ground for the Italian experiment is a postcard-worthy, 24-acre Tuscan winery called Il Paradiso di Frassina

In 2006, the researchers set up speakers in front of young plants in wooden tubs and older plants in a small vineyard on an isolated area of the estate. Shoots and tendrils exposed to this sonic fertilizer were tested once a week from May until December, when the plants go dormant.

They examined, among other variables, chlorophyll and nitrate content with a handheld Konica Minolta Spad-502 meter; photosynthetic and transpiration rates were checked with a Ciras-I infrared gas analyzer.

"Sound exposure has some positive effects on vine growth in the vineyard, especially shoot growth," says lead researcher Stefano Mancuso, a professor of agriculture at the University of Florence. "The results aren't conclusive yet, but total leaf area per vine was always higher in sound-treated vines, both in the vineyard and in the pots. The silent control pot-grown vines also showed delayed development."

The lush, rolling terrain that doubles as an outdoor lab for testing sound is, in reality, pretty quiet.

Visitors often strain to hear music outside the test area, and sometimes estate owner Carlo Cignozzi turns the tunes up a bit for effect.

"How loud it is matters more to people than to plants," says Cignozzi, a fit 64-year-old whose slightly gruff manner belies his former life as a big-city lawyer. "It doesn't have to boom to keep plants happy and animals away."

The estate was wired for sound in 2001 when Cignozzi needed an ecological way to keep pests from ruining grapes. A lover of music who once serenaded grape pickers on an accordion, he noticed that plants seemed to mature faster under the influence of gentle sounds. Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi and Mahler were staples on the initial playlist running 24 hours a day.

Powered by a 20-GB iPod in a wooden shed, sound wafts over the rest of the sun-drenched countryside from 15 large speakers cradled in trees or crouched in steel shelters on the ground.

Before the current round of experiments started, Cignozzi added some blues, country and nature sounds into the mix, "entirely to benefit human ears," namely those of his wife, Diana, and daughter, Gea, who go about their daily lives to an experimental soundtrack.

The winery, which produces three thoroughbred reds, may also bear conclusive evidence about the role of music by 2008. This time around, Mancuso and team shifted the tests to an area with flatter, more uniform terrain. They also set up a silent control area with noise barriers.

While researchers are mirroring experiments using control plants and nonmusical sounds in the lab, Mancuso says there are advantages to conducting this kind of fieldwork.

"We can't toast to proving our theories yet," he says, "but one of the nice things about this project is that there is still occasion for a good glass of wine."

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