Way back in 1557, a British poet by the name of Thomas Tusser, published a collection of his work, geared as advice for farmers titled, A Hundred Good Points of Husbandry. In the section he titled “April,’ he wrote the now-famous:
Swéete April showers, Doo spring Maie flowers
Translated from old English, it reads ‘Sweet April showers/Do spring May flowers’ … which in our modern vernacular has evolved to the popular saying, “April showers bring May flowers.”
But what was the science behind Tusser’s advice?
A Fl-Oral History Lesson
The scientific discoveries related to how flowers in fact bloom, have taken years to prove, and though Tusser was likely working with the best information of his time, he only recorded a portion of the process. It’s been an interesting journey since.
For starters, the genetic component responsible for producing the molecules that go from the leaves of a plant to the shoots is a type of messenger ribonucleic acid (RNA). Once the “signal” is given from this messenger, it forms proteins, which are actually what make the flowers bloom. I've always thought of proteins as little worker molecules in our bodies, making up the machinery that keeps us going.
This theory was first introduced by a Russian biologist named Mikhail Chailakhyan in the 1930s, but he (nor the scientists who believed he was correct) could verify it in those days...
Fast forward to 2005 and Professor Ove Nilsson, who was working at the Swedish University of Agricultural Scientists, finally proved it. He and his team likened this pre-determined occurrence in the genetic code of flowering with the process of sexual maturity in humans.
But Wait … There’s More
Just a few years ago, in 2017, a trio of Japanese researchers including Keisuke Inoue, published a paper in the Journal of Plant Research, which noted that plants—again similar to humans—have an internal circadian rhythm clock.
Photosynthesis genes are controlled by this, which assists plants with adapting to environmental changes, and regulates their development. That of course includes blooming flowers. Apparently the proteins coordinate with the clock and light-signaling pathways to trigger the gene to transcribe, which enables the plant to flower.
Mind blowing, right?! It blew my mind, too.
Let There Be Light
The circadian rhythm clocks within plants wouldn’t be able to regulate properly if it weren’t for photoperiodism, which are plants’ reaction to light and dark periods. For example: Long-day flowers such as daffodils bloom in the spring, while short-day flowers like chrysanthemums, blossom later in the year, in the fall based on the amount of light during the daytime hours.
Right as Rain
It’s true, like Tusser famously said, that the water of rain showers helps gardens grow. In fact, water is vital to transport nutrients through plants by drawing them from the soil in which they grow. The cells need this moisture to stand upright and stay physically strong.
The water enters primarily through the roots and takes a journey through the stem and leaves, finally arriving at the flowers. The mode of transport the water takes is through what are called xylem vessels. They function the way capillaries do in us humans. And in addition to keeping the plants and their flowers strong, it helps regulate temperature as the moisture naturally evaporates.
Just like us, hydration is key to optimal health.
With all of these discoveries of how plants can be similar to humans in developmental and functional ways, I was reminded of the scientific chatter behind the benefits of talking to plants.
Fans of the TV show Mythbusters may remember an experiment they conducted about the subject, using various control factors such as spoken words (both nice and mean), different types of music and also complete silence. Spoiler alert: the plants that suffered in silence grew the least.
Perhaps even more interesting (and a touch controversial) was a study conducted by the Royal Horticultural Society where they had men and women each speak to tomato plants (via headphones attached to their pots) as well as two plants that had no one speak to them, but all had the same soil, exposure to the elements, etc. They fully expected the men’s voices to be the most effective.
The verdict? The plants that heard from female voices grew the most! There are theories that this could be because of womens’ voices’ tone, pitch and range, but more research needs to be done to make a definite determination. Charles Darwin had a theory on the link between vibration and plant growth, which may also be a factor in sound vs. silence growth deltas.
All I know is that every time I see “May flowers” from now on, I’m going to remember “April showers” aren’t the only thing that brought us these beauties.
Do you have a favorite May flower that especially brings you light? Share it in our comments section for the community to enjoy.