Let’s be honest: While humanity has done a lot to support the arts, humans themselves make for a terrible live audience. If they’re not coughing or talking or picking their noses, they’re probably tapping at their phones. On Monday, Barcelona’s Liceu opera house offered an intriguing solution to this problem, hosting a performance of Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for hundreds of beautiful, silent plants.
Sadly, an accompanying press release makes it clear that the concert was for the benefit of human (and not vegetal) observers, describing it as “[bringing] us closer to something as essential as our relationship with nature.” The opera house’s promise to donate the plants to 2,292 frontline healthcare workers only further confirms the project’s fundamentally anthropocentric goals.
It’s not like plants couldn’t hear a concert. A growing (heh) body of research indicates that plants are more perceptive than many people realize, reacting to sound, scent, and even touch. At the same time, extraordinary claims about plant sentience promoted by pseudoscientific works like 1973's The Secret Life of Plants have hung like a dark cloud over the field for decades.
Drawing on dubious experiments with a polygraph, the best-selling book suggested that plants liked certain types of music more than others and could read human minds. Once planted in the minds of the public, a number of plant-themed musical works sprouted from this nonsense, including 1976's Mother Earth’s Plantasia, an obscure, completely charming album of loopy synth tunes.
There isn’t any scientific evidence that plants know what you’re thinking, prefer classical music to rock n’ roll, or can, say, read a blog post like this one. Still, it’s fun to imagine a world where an artist can reach out and connect with something as patient and reassuring as a plant. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to express ourselves if no other humans had to be involved?