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Sunday, 20 March 2011





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Do plants read our emotions?

“They may be blind, deaf, and dumb in the human sense, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are extremely sensitive instruments for measuring man’s emotions” - Marcel Vogel.

The relationship between plants and human beings is not a new phenomenon. It has been known from periods far back as 4000 BC with historical evidence of tree worship and gods and goddesses believed to be dwelling in trees.

Before the rise of Christianity, nature and especially trees were widely worshipped in many different cultures and times. In the worship of Apollo, the priests of ancient Greece purified themselves at length before venturing to a sacred oak grove and calling out questions.

According to legend, the trees answered in human voices. The Celts and their shamans, the Druids, considered every oak tree to be endowed with sacred powers.

Even in Christian times, we have such legendary figures as St. Francis and Hildegard of Bingen speaking of plants and trees as divine wonders. Over 2500 years ago the Buddha described a forest full of trees as a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity.

However, scientific interest on the extraordinary power of plants began as a result of a casual experiment conducted in 1966 by an American electronics engineer Cleve Backster. Backster, who was recognized as America’s foremost lie-detector examiner of the era, was winding up one of his teaching sessions in his school for polygraph examiners, teaching the art of lie detection to policemen and security agents from all over the world when he casually observed the pot plant in his office.

On an impulse, he decided it would be interesting to measure the time it took water to go through the root system up to the leaves, using the polygraph.


He attached the electrodes of his instrument to the leaves of this plant, a Dracaena (Dracaena massangeana) and started pouring water to its root area. As the plant sucked up water, the polygraph, to Backster’s surprise, did not indicate less resistance as might have expected by the greater electrical conductivity of the wetter plant.

The pen on the graph paper, instead of showing an upward trend, was treading downwards, with a lot of saw-tooth motion on the tracing.

Having worked with humans, it was known by Backster that such a reaction was similar to that of a human being experiencing a brief emotional stimulus.

He repeated the experiment several times using different varieties of plants and obtained almost the same results.


This led him to conduct further research with plants. To see if a plant could display memory, a scheme was devised whereby Backster would identify the secret killer of one of two plants.

He selected six of his students, who, blindfolded, drew from a hat folded slips of paper on one of which were instructions to remove from the pot, stamp-on and thoroughly destroy one of two plants in a room.

This was carried out in secret where only the “killer”’ knew of the secret and only the second plant was a witness. Backster attached a polygraph to the remaining plant and paraded the students one by one before the plant. It was no surprise to him, but the plant showed no reaction to five of the students but showed a violent reaction to the other every time the “killer” entered the room!

Later on, through further experimentation he discovered that plants could understand and feel our thoughts instantly. He found out that the plant felt the mere picking up of a box of matches with the intention of burning.


Once when a close friend of Backster entered the room, all his plants connected to polygraphs went “dead’ showing no response to anything that he did. Curious to know what could have influenced the plants to behave this way, he asked his friend whether any part of her work involved plants.

The friend replied, “I terminate the plants I work with. I put them in the oven to obtain the dry weight for my analysis.” Forty-five minutes after the person left, all of Backster’s plants started responding once again. This experience made him realize that plants could intentionally be put into a faint or mesmerized by humans.

The research done in 1975 by Dr. Harold E. Puthoff and Randall Fontes at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California also supports the possibility that plants may respond to human consciousness as contended by Cleve Backster.

This type of severe sensitivity of plants is also pointed out in the Holy Bible which says “ And on the morrow, when they were come out of Bethany, he hungered...And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season of figs.

And he answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit from thee henceforward for ever. And his disciples heard it...And as they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away from the roots”.

Commenting on Backsters’ findings, Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) expert Dr. Esser says, ”When I first heard of Backsters’ experiments I laughed it off but I have had to eat my words!” Dr, Howard Miller, a cytologist from New Jersey, believes that a kind of “cellular consciousness” has been discovered.

Other scientists feel that Backster has discovered one of the most potential scientific breakthroughs in history.

In 1956, J.I. Rodale discovered that cuttings grew better if the mother plant was still alive. It seems as if the mother plant exudes something or other, which protects and stimulates the cuttings.

When he burned the mother plant, cuttings taken from it thrived far less well than those from a control group, in which the mother plant remained undamaged. The distance between the mother plant and cuttings played little or no part in these experiments.


In the United States J.B. Rhine, a well-known personality in the field of parapsychological experiments and Rev. Franklin Loehr, carried out tests involving prayer meetings for plants. Various seeds were sown in two separate groups. Daily prayers were said for one group; the other had to manage without these good offices.

The results indicated without any doubt, that the plants for which the prayers were said grew better. Also it was discovered that the results were equally positive if the prayers were said for the water used for the plants.

This recalls to the mind of the writer the age-old Sri Lankan practice of sprinkling “Pirith Pan” or holy water on crops and compounds to wade off various kinds of disasters.

After a series of experiments with plants Vogel declared unequivocally that “It is fact: man can and does communicate with plant life. Plants are living objects, sensitive, rooted in space.

They may be blind, deaf, and dumb in the human sense, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are extremely sensitive instruments for measuring man’s emotions.

They radiate energy, forces that are beneficial to man. One can feel these forces! They feed into one’s own force- field which in turn feeds back energy to the plant” Closer to home, Dr. T.C. Singh, head of the Department of Botany at Annamalai University, South of Chennai was another scientist who was interested in the behaviour of plants.

Classical music

He was successful in demonstrating how plants reacted positively to classical music played near their vicinity.

He managed to obtain 25-60 % increase in yield from different varieties of rice by playing Charukesi Raga in the fields.

Perhaps the most interesting and significant of all of Dr Singh’s findings was that later generations of the seeds of musically stimulated plants carried on the improved traits of greater size, more leaves, and other characteristics. Evidently, music had changed the plants’ chromosomes!

Dorothy Retallack of USA, required to devise an experiment for a college biology class and having heard about the positive effects of Bach and Beethoven on wheat fields in Canada, sought to determine how music would affect growth patterns in plants.


The plants placed in a controlled environment reacted favourably, growing faster and more abundantly, to the harmonic strains of the classical composers, in some cases actually growing in the direction of the music.

Highly percussive sounds, especially the ‘hard Rock’ of Jimi Hendrix and the like, stunted them in their growth and they often leaned away from the hi- fi speaker. The most appealing music, on the other hand, was not Western, but rather the soothing tones of Ravi Shankar’s Sitar.

In some cases the plants inclined an unprecedented sixty degrees to the horizontal in an effort to merge with the musical source. Incidentally, the devastating effect acid rock music has on human beings was displayed disastrously some years ago, when a student from a leading Colombo South school who was addicted to this kind of music killed both his parents.

Going by these facts, the Buddhist religious practice of conducting “bodhi poojas” (religious offerings and recitations) at the bodhi trees (Ficus religiosa) may invariably have a scientific meaning. So may be the significance of the Christmas tree, which the modern society has relegated only for the purpose of hanging gifts at Christmas time.


The writer recalls at this time how a former Sri Lankan beauty queen, an avid orchid grower, described on TV some years ago, the talking sessions she had with her orchids.

She was very confident of her successful results in bringing hard-to-flower orchids to bloom.

All her other orchids perform extraordinarily well after her “loving conversations” with the plants. Perhaps in this case, the plants reacted even to the beauty of the caretaker!

It is obvious from the foregoing that there is a strong relationship or bond between man and plant.

It is well worth that, we, as those interested in nature always be alive to this fact and treat our plants with a lot of TLC (Tender Loving Care)!


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