MadSci Network: Botany

Re: What effect on plant metabolism and growth does electricity have?

Date: Thu May 20 17:46:34 1999
Posted By: Evelyn Tsang, Staff, Plant Science, McGill University (Mac Campus)
Area of science: Botany
ID: 925665364.Bt

Hello Karri!

Your question describes 'electroculture', the study of the effects of electric fields on plants. There have been a great many experiments performed in this area of science.

Way back in 1783, Dr M. Bertholon created a machine that collected atmospheric electricity and transferred it to plants growing in the field. He called this machine the 'electrovegetoma' and claimed it radically increased the growth of the plants in the affected area.

At the beginning of this century a well-respected scientist, Dr. K. Selim Lewström, created an artificial electric field by suspending a net (on insulated supports) over a field. The wire net was connected to an electric source at one end and grounded at the other. Again, this scientist found a positive impact on the growth of plants inside the electric field.

Other experiments that have been set up include growing plants in water with an electric current running at right angles to the direction of the growing root (the roots started growing in the direction of the electric current), and exposing seeds to an electric field (the seeds germinated more quickly). Observations have been made about how grass growing under power lines are greener than in other areas, and that plants look healthier right after thunderstorms.

There are sceptics who say that grass after thunderstorms are healthier because the rain washed away the dust, and that grass under power lines are greener because of the fertilizer-droppings made by birds sitting of the lines. As well, sometimes the experiments on plants and electricity showed accelerated growth, and sometimes the plants grew just as well as the control plants (those not being affected by electricity).

What do you believe? A modern-day scientist, Dr. A. Goldsworthy, suggests that plants react best to electricity when all other growing conditions (food, water, space) are available. The presence of electricity simply improves the conditions even more, so if the conditions aren`t there, then the presence of an electric field won`t improve the growth of the plants.

If you want to perform an experiment on the effects of electricity on plant growth, you may want to think about the materials you have in order to determine the type of project to do. For instance, in order to produce electricity, you will need a generator.


In order to determine the effect on plants, you would have to measure plant growth on the test plants and control plants. This can be done by measuring the amount of growth after every burst of electricity, or by harvesting the plants, drying them down and measuring the weight (biomass) on a very sensitive scale - you would be measuring milligrams! Think about the time that you would have to perform the experiment, and where you would be able to run it in (inside, outside, etc). Your safest experiment may be measuring a section of plants for its growth, or taking pictures before and after both thunderstorms and normal (no electricity in the form of lightning) rainstorms, to see if there is a difference between the resulting growth of the plants.

I would also suggest that you go to the library and look for books under the keyword 'electroculture', and if there is a university nearby, go to the library there and ask at the reference desk for help to find any books on the subject.

Best of luck and keep asking questions!

Evelyn Tsang

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