The secret electromagnetic life of plants

" When daisies pied and violets blue

   And ladies smocks all silver white

   And buttercups of yellow hue

   Do paint the meadows with delight... "

 William Shakespeare, Song

Medcross Group

Chemical, visual, auditory, and electromagnetic communication between fauna (animals) serves obvious biological purposes like mating, warning, and protection, and probably also information transfer. It would be less necessary, one might think, for flora (plants) to have any particular need for inter-communications of that sort. They would need some means of attracting honey or pollen-seeking insects, such as the hue of their flowers or their scent, of course, but what purpose might be served by inter-communication between members of a variety? The simple answer would be "none", though they would obviously like to signal to insects when pollen is on offer, and this is accomplished by their radiant flowers, glowing at visible light frequencies. Maybe there are other more subtle effects at work.

All biologists would accept that plants make use of solar radiation by the mechanism of photosynthesis and chlorophyll to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. Organelles in the plant cells called chloroplasts produce oxygen in the same way that mitochondria in animals utilise it. Roughly 400 billion tons of oxygen are set free by photosynthesis each year, and about 200 billion tons of carbon (as CO2) is converted into compounds in plants. Surprisingly only 20 percent of this comes from land plants, the bulk deriving from the phytoplankton and macroalgae in the world’s oceans. All the oxygen in the terrestrial atmosphere is renewed in this way about once each 2000 years, the same period as each astrological sign. All the CO2 in the atmosphere and the earth’s waters go through the cycle every three centuries. So between these two intracellular organelles - absorbing CO2 and mitochondria emitting it - the entire oxygenated atmosphere is controlled for the benefit of organic life, and without them life on earth would almost disappear. 

It is not generally known that mitochondria in animals constitute nearly half the dry weight of our bodies, and that furthermore these mitochondria have their own quite separate DNA and genetic code, as if once they were a completely separate life form. When it comes to survival, we are almost totally in the hands of the mitochondria inside our cells, and each cell might contain as much as a thousand mitochondria. For these at least some regulatory intercommunication might be useful. Obviously if some impediment is placed between the source of solar radiation and the plant there must inevitably occur an inhibition of chloroplast activity, which would show itself in an organised manner. The acacia tree folds its delicate fingerlike fronds as nightfall approaches; daisyform flowers close their petals for the night, and these commonly observed mechanisms sensibly protect the plants against the coldness of night or unwanted predatory attentions.

From such simple beginnings more sophisticated verifiable mechanisms have also evolved: the Venus suntrap can snap shut with the tactile arrival of its insect prey. But how far has this communicative process gone? George Washington Crile believed that not only do plants communicate between themselves by means of electromagnetic signals, and that this can be demonstrated experimentally, but that they are also sensitive to non-plant life should it approach them. He further claimed in his 1926 book The bipolar theory of living processes and in another ten years later entitled The phenomena of life: a radio-electrical interpretation that plants, once programmed by experience, were sentient about even the subtle intentions of the approaching fauna. This stretches the imagination and belief of any self-respecting scientist (Crile, 1926). 

He was not the first to advance this heretical hypothesis. There has been a long history of the alleged regulatory connections between plants and electromagnetic fields, going back to the Abbe M. Nollet’s treatise Recherches sur les causes particulieres des phenomenes electriques, published in Paris in 1754. Despite a number of theorists advancing the notion that plants were capable of meaningful radiations, there were few means in those days of taking adequate measurements, so they could neither prove or be disproved in their fancies. 

Untypical of such notions were the more down to earth experiments of John Nash Ott, who established by means of time-lapse photography that plants reacted not only to visible light and temperature, but also to UV, TV (RF) and X-radiation. By covering one half of a colour TV tube with lead shielding and the other half with photographic paper capable of stopping UV and visible light, Ott devised a crude exposure system for six bean sprouts on either side of the monitor screen, those with the lead shield being regarded as controls. Six more were placed 50 feet distant. 

After three weeks the RF-radiated sprouts were clearly distorted by comparison with the shielded and distant plants. Though Ott’s study does not carry much statistical power, it is at least replicable. He speculated that hyperactive children might also have been affected by the TV exposure (Ott, 1973). At the request of the Hyperactive Childrens’ Society, I myself carried out measurements in the bedrooms of some hyperactive children in the Bournemouth area of the UK and found a correlation between ELF electric field strength and the extent of the hyperactivity, but here too the sample was too small (n=10) and the funding not sufficient to develop these preliminary observations into a full scale peer-reviewable study. At this time no such study has ever been carried out to my knowledge, but the concept of the electric field as a biological stressor is growing in the bioelectromagnetic scientific fraternity. 

Mitogenic radiation and biophotons
Well before Ott’s studies a Russian team Alexandr Gurwitsch and his wife claimed that all plants produce invisible radiation in the UV bandwidth, supporting their claims with experiments now regarded as classic (in the sense that they are often quoted). Gurwitsch had observed that the dividing cells at the tips of onion roots appear to grow in a definite rhythm. To understand the process better, and see if there was any inter-communication at work between the plants, he mounted one root tip inside a glass tube and pointed it at right angles at a similar root which had a small portion of its surface exposed. After an exposure period of three hours he found 25 percent more growth in the exposed area, and this was evident even 2-3 mm around the exposure point. 

Only a brave man would argue for a causal connection on this evidence alone: the exposed part could have been better oxygenated by the passage of air than the covered sections for example, or the release of CO2 more easily achieved through lack of restriction, both being possible confounders for this experiment However, when Gurwitsch blocked the exposed area by quartz crystal he still found the same effect, though when the path was blocked by glass or gelatine (both of which block UV radiation) there was no effect. Gurwitsch concluded that these radiations were responsible for the increased mitosis or cell division, and hence called then "mitogenic rays". 

This is such a simple experiment to carry out that I am surprised that not many have tried to replicate or investigate it further. One team who did was L. Colli and his colleague U. Fachini in 1954, who thereby discovered a weak emission of light from germinating plants, though they may have been unaware of the prior Gurwitsch studies at the time. Since then similar emissions have been found many times in many plant varieties. Studies between 1931 and 1976 using models as dissimilar as yeast, helianthus, frog spawn, earthworms, wheat seedlings, and garlic (Allium cepa) were catalogued by Bernhard Ruth in a 1989 paper reporting his own experiments with ultraweak photon emissions. 

Ruth’s experiments focused on cucumber seedlings (Cucumis sativus). These seeds survive for about 5 minutes in saturated brine. The sudden rise in photon emission after the addition of the brine found by Ruth may well correspond to the degradation emission mentioned by Gurwitsch in connection with mitogenic radiation, indicating the occurrence of irreversible damage. It is as if the cell issues a distress call when dying, to advise its neighbour cells of the fact. Even here however, remembering that brine is only an ionic solution of positively charged sodium and negatively charged chlorine, the brine may simply have been acting as a battery for the remaining compounds in the solution, and the effect may have had nothing to do with an organic (i.e. living) response. 

The notion is nevertheless not very far from studies of heat shock protein expression on cellular surfaces. Poisoning of seedlings generally appears to increase the intensity of biophotons, so Ruth concluded that "the ultraweak photon emission may be of considerable importance for biochemical processes within cells"

One has to wonder what happens to these weak signals. Presumably in multicellular creatures there needs to occur some kind of central processing operation so that the dead cells emitting their "we are dying" signal are subsequently replaced by mitosis of their fellows, in order to preserve the integrity of the creature’s morphology. A signal of that sort would therefore plausibly lead to an increase in mitosis among living neighbour cells. Studies by K.H. Li at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Beijing indicate that these emissions originate from DNA, suggesting that DNA is a coherent photon store. Since the energy for the emission is derived from glycolysis or ATP, one would expect a malignant cell to require higher amounts of these products, which is in fact observed: cancer cells are comparatively glucose hungry . 

The grandfather of ultraweak photon emission investigations is indisputably Fritz-Albert Popp at the Institute fur Biophysikalische Zellforschung at Kaiserslautern University, Germany. Popp addresses the question whether cellular radiations "announce" a cell’s death in the same way as it engineers its own apoptosis by proposing that there exists a coherent photon storage system in biological systems which allows delay in decay rates of photonic excitations. Also using a cucumber seedling model, he attempted to demonstrate the effect in a 1989 paper which showed this delayed bioluminescence. His further studies compared long range interactions in malignant versus normal human amnion cells and found significant differences. 

The same sort of electric field "communication" might conceivably surround groups of whole creatures, (which after all, are only collections of individual cells) each sentient to its presence, and equally sensitive to any disturbance of the group’s self-engendered electric field characteristics. At its most refined expression such a mechanism could ultimately account for human telepathic observations such as those so dramatically influencing Hans Berger’s intended choice of career. As Popp sums it up:"The coherence of biophotons may work on different levels of evolution as the glue of biological cooperation, including gestalt formation, the organization of organs, and animal societies"

Telepathic Plants
It is now established that different light frequencies have a fundamental effect on photosynthesis rates. This must pave the way for the heresy that plants can distinguish between these frequencies or between others outside the visible part of the EM spectrum, and therefore the rudiments of communication are available to them. If one’s feet are scarcely on firm terra scientifica at this point then the claims made by Cleveland Backster, a foremost US lie detector examiner, lift them off its surface! Backster used his polygraph lie detector on a house plant Dracaena massangeana and found its needle varied when he put into his mind the intention to dip its leaves into a hot cup of coffee. His subsequent investigations, covering over 25 plant types, were eventually published in 1968 with the title "Evidence of primary perception in plant life" in the Intl. Journal of Parapsychology, of which some 7000 reprints were requested. One has to ask whether he was influencing the polygraph directly himself, and the plant may simply have been a passive amplifying receiver. 

Replication and scepticism being the twin cornerstones of good science, it was not long before others tried to see if there was anything in Backster’s astounding claim. Among these was Pierre Paul Sauvin, a New Jersey electronics engineer, who later claimed to have instrumented a small plant to control an electric train set’s direction, using philodendron as his model. Like Backster and Gurwitsch he found that plants reacted most strongly to the death of living cells in their environment, and even most consistently to the death of human cells. The effect appeared to be observable even over large distances. Hans Berger, whose lifelong ambition was to find a physical basis for telepathy, would have been proud of him. 

Another plant sensitivity investigator was Marcel Vogel. Vogel developed a passion for bioluminescence in the 1950s, and built up a company Vogel Luminescence, which developed the red colour seen on TV screens, fluorescent crayons, a black light inspection kit for tracing rodent pathways, and then soldthe firm to IBM to concentrate on research into liquid crystal systems and optoelectrical devices. His book Luminescence in liquids and solids and their practical application was almost a standard textbook at the time. 

From this fairly down to earth background Vogel was enticed into researching Backster’s claims. He too found that he could influence the plant at a distance, even upto eight miles away. He concluded eventually that 

"A Life Force or Cosmic energy surrounding all living things is shareable among plants, animals and humans. Through such sharing a person and a plant become one! This oneness makes possible a sensitivity allowing plant and man not only to intercommunicate, but to record these communications via the plant on a moving chart".

Out of many I select one particular research group involved in these bizarre experiments, Randall Fontes and Robert Swanson from California, that easeful acceptor of unusual ideas. At Stanford Research Institute they collaborated with Dr. Hal Puthoff, a physicist, to discover an electric potential travelling from cell to cell in the philodendron. This is actually not surprising in view of the communicating gap junctions which are known to exist between cells in most multicellular creatures. The big question is whether these potentials can also act at a distance when chemical communication is made impossible. 

Two teams of scientists have addressed this question. The earlier group was Kaznacheev, Shurin and colleagues at the State Medical School, Novosibirsk in the former USSR, whose study was published in three separate journals: Chemistry in 1973, Ultraweak Biochemiluminescence in 1973, and then also briefly reported in Psychoenergetic Systems in 1976. They divided a standard healthy tissue culture (chicken embryo) into two completely isolated metal containers equipped with windows permitting optical contact between the cultures, these windows either being of quartz (not thicker than 0.8mm) or glass. The containers were then placed on a drum revolving at 25 revolutions a minute, and maintained at a constant (unstated) temperature in total darkness. 

In 458 tests one of the two cultures was infected with five different strains of toxic agent (Coxsackie virus, adenovirus, fowl pest virus, mercuric bichloride, and ultraviolet radiation) at doses which were known to kill the cells within two to four days. Another 1327 were left uninfected, and the progress of this cytopathic action was followed in all the cultures every 12 hours after the second day, "based on the number of cells that died out of the total in the tissue culture"

The results were that in 76 percent of the experiments mirror cytopathic effects (i.e. cross infections) were noted. In other words cells began to die in the non-infected tissue culture, irrespective of which agent was involved in the mirror container. The effect was largely confined to those with quartz window and few cytopathic effected occurred in the control cultures when the window was glass. The cytopathic effects started in the controls about 12 hours after they had begun in the infected cultures, but in no case was any Coxsackie virus discovered in these controls. 

The authors hypothesised that "the described inter-cellular interactions reflect a communication process which takes place by radiation", and since the cytopathic effect took place when quartz rather than glass was used, it suggested that "the radiation may consist of infra red or ultraviolet photons"

Further experimental work was undertaken claimed the authors cryptically, which identified the photon flow as ultraviolet rather than infra red in nature, with additional bioluminescence in the blue-green portions of spectrum. The intensity of the bioluminescence increased from eight to twelve times, with ultraviolet radiation, remaining at this increased level for 18 hours. 

This account was from the Psychoenergetics paper, which may be less complete than the other two, but given the possible importance of the finding, it is a very poor standard of scientific reporting. It is disturbing not to mention many details of the study such as the temperature, what amount of tissue was used, whether the chambers closed at the top, what precautions were taken to prevent contamination of the other preparation, or what method was used to determine the number of cells killed, are just some of the unreported details. Where is it established that a virus cannot penetrate an 0.8 mm quartz sheet? And why did the drum have to be revolved at 25 times a minute? Hopefully a fuller account is available elsewhere since this version of their paper is not very convincing, to say the least. 

Dr. Eugene Celan and his colleague D. Gradinaru of Bucharest in 1986 tried a somewhat different approach to the same question. They took a culture of tumour cells growing in darkness in a pendant drop beneath a quartz cover slip and placed on the top of it some rapidly dividing yeast cells. They claimed that radiation from the yeast cells passed through the quartz (but not glass) and killed the tumour cells. 

It is surprising that these oft-quoted experiments have not received replicative attention, since they do not seem unduly difficult to repeat. They both appear to have important defects in study design, and apart from concluding (somewhat prematurely, and without any mature discussion of possible confounders) that UV radiation is responsible, there was no attempt to characterise the frequency or wavelength of these alleged radiative influences. Having said this, there is a clear need to investigate further what might be important clues to little-understood cellular processes, presently only being explained in terms of chemical contact. 

The Skrunda radio location station studies
With the collapse of the Russian economy and its political sway, came the comparative freedom of the Latvians to investigate the biological effects of a powerful radio location transmitter at Skrunda, near Riga. The surveillance transmitters had been beaming radiation towards the West since 1967 from twin radar antennae each at a peak power of 1.25 MW in the 156-162 MHz. frequency range. Its pulses could have intensities as high as 375 mW/cm2. Questions over what might have been their effects on the local flora and fauna were the subject of intensive studies between 1992 and 1994. The Latvians no doubt had some scores to settle, so the results need to be carefully evaluated, but they nevertheless provided an unique opportunity to do some long term retrospective investigation, sorely needed in a field poorly served by such studies. 

Several of the studies concerned trees and plants. The most telling of these was a study of the growth rate of conifers (Pinus silvestris), their seedlobes, germination rates, and the ultrastructure of the needles. The research team (Turs and M. Selga, from the Dept of Plant Physiology, Salaspils) collected pine needles and cones from 30-60 year old trees at four locations: one behind the station where there was no radiation, and three sites in front of the station, one low, and two high EMF exposure sites. 

The pine seeds were germinated on filter paper in the dark for ten days at 22 degrees Centigrade, then planted in peat, a process repeated four times. The number of seed lobes subsequently growing from the seedlings varied from three to eight, which is not regarded as unusual. The first thing they noticed was that the germination rate of the two highest exposure sites fell to 55 and 27 percent of the controls (which were 85 percent successful). Whereas resin ducts from non-irradiated seeds had wide central tubes and a flat light epithelium, in the exposed seeds there was a progressive filling of these tubes with a electron microscopically dense material thought to be resin. This might also be a simple chemical result of exposure.

In the chloroplasts (where the plant converts solar radiation to useable energy) there was an increase in plastoglobules of seeds from the low and high EMF exposure sites, which reflects an increase in the plants’ stress response as shown by a number of other studies . These plastoglobules accumulate plastoquinone, a-tocopherol, a -tocoquinone, and other lipid like substances as newly developed deposits.

Such lipids are important in the orderly procession of electron transport and hence in respiration. Clumping them together inevitably disturbs vital electron transport processes.

Also there were changes in the normal Golgi apparatus structure resulting in large globules in the seeds from the most irradiated sites. The Golgi apparatus in such cells actively transports enzymes and substrates to the periphery of the cytoplasm as predecessors of lignin and cellulose. Similar globules were found near the plasma membrane, and this suggested there was an impact on the synthesis of phenols, which are promoters of plant development and senescence. 

Phenol induced senescence would explain the results of another study, this time on pine rings. Pine rings are a reliable way of seeing the extent of growth in any year: if they are close together the growth has been low that year. If wide apart then there has been good growth. The research team examining these rings over the 60 years life of trees taken from 29 sampling sites found statistically significantly lowered growth rates after 1970, the period when the transmitters were first deployed, especially after 3-5 years subsequent, and continued to the end of the study period. The transmitters will be switched off in 1998 as a result of an agreement between Russia and Latvia. In such studies one has to be careful that one is not confounding climatic changes or changes due to the end of the trees’ life with radiative effects. 

Shakespeare in his song used the phrase "painting the meadows". In their study of RF radiation of US cities Tell and Mantiply were encouraged to use the word "illuminated", rather than "irradiated". By any other name the violets would never be quite as blue, it seems. 

Upside down duckweed
Pine trees are a significant feature of any landscape. At the other end of the scale lies the humble duckweed (Spirodela pylori Schleiden), and one might be forgiven for thinking that this unobtrusive, lowly, aquatic plant might escape the full power of the beams from the Skrunda RLS. They come from the family of Lemnaceae and are the simplest and smallest flowering plants. The author of this study, I. Magone from Latvia University, reported that if the radiation was of newly emerging duckweed plants at first there was a sharp increase in growth which later fell below the level of controls. Eighty-eight hours of exposure led to some abnormal individuals after 30 days of growth. But at 55 days six to ten of the daughter plants out of ten showed morphological and developmental abnormalities of a gross kind: like growing with their roots upward for example, or with left symmetry, as a result of exposure to the Skrunda radiation. The author concluded that if only short term studies had been considered the conclusions might be very different from those examining long term (and more serious) effects, when the true extent of the morphological disturbance becomes apparent. This study is still one of the few available reporting adverse long term effects on simple plants from EMF exposure. One has to ask what might the effects be on the myriad other species of plant right now being chronically exposed to the radiations of our modern technology? If plants do "talk" to each other as Backster claims, then it must nowadays be across a very crowded room. 

In the latest rush of research projects arising from concerns over mobile phone use plants seem to have been almost totally ignored. The latest collection of research papers to hand on Mobile Phone Safety, (Kuster, Balzano et al., 1997) includes contributions from a dozen well known experts in the field such as Ross Adey, Neils Kuster, Asher Sheppard, and Mike Repacholi, but not a single one of them mentions RF effects on flora. Yet many of the base stations are erected in fields alongside motorways, in parks, or in the grassy grounds of schools and colleges. 

Is talking to one’s plant going to help it grow? This notion might contain a small grain of truth in that all plants convert CO2 into glucose, with oxygen as a by product. When we talk we expel CO2 and take in molecular oxygen, perhaps a little faster than usual. So the exchange of these compounds between man and plant is going to be mutually beneficial. The air around any plant is likely to be oxygen rich and the air around any person is likely to be CO2 rich (especially at cocktail parties in enclosed rooms!), so by all means talk to your plant! But don’t let too many people see you doing it. 

More seriously there is also a grain of truth in the notion that different plants, being of different chemical compositions all give off electric fields as a result of the chemical reactions taking place continuously within them. When a large group of such plants are growing together, this amounts to a detectable level of field strength. For flying insects with sensillae specially adapted to identify these frequencies it is only biologically plausible that the plants should want to attract some insects who will pollinate them, and repel others who are likely to be mordacious and eat their leaves. Perhaps this slow war of radiations is evolving all the time, in addition to the chemical armoury of some plants like pyrethrum, whose effectiveness against insects is harnessed in some insecticides. 

The Kirlian Phenomenon
No discussion about plant radiation would be complete without mention of the Kirlian effect. I met Viktor Adamenko, who has studied it for years, at a meeting in Athens connected with the Paleo Falero mobile phone mast, and he was kind enough to give me some of his papers translated into English (since most are only available in Russian). Viktor reminded me that Tchijevsky in the first decades of the 20th century had identified correlations between changes in solar magnetic activity with biological processes including epidemics of cholera. typhoid and so on, just as Hope-Simpson and later Fred Hoyle found sunspot maxima coincided with influenza pandemics. Other studies had shown a similar correlation with Russian grain harvests. 

The concept of Kirlian photography originated in 1939 from Semyon Kirlian, an electrician employed in the repair of apparatus, and his wife Valentina, who lived in a two room apartment at Krasnodar the capital city of the Kuban region in the south of Russia near the Black sea. They passed a high voltage current through a leaf and other living materials and could take a photograph of the ensuing corona discharge. They claimed that the photographic patterns of the discharge were altered when the leaf was diseased, even though there were no overt signs of this. Two identical leaves of which one was diseased would show up quite differently in Kirlian’s photographs. 

More difficult to accept was their further claim that when such currents were applied to parts of leaves from which a minority had been cut off, the photographic pattern still showed the shape of the entire leaf. 

Kirlian’s first claim is not implausible: a withered leaf will contain less moisture, and a diseased leaf may well also have different chemical characteristics from a sound one, so some change in its electric conductivity might be expected, and this could be subtle enough to be of early diagnostic benefit. But the second claim implied that perhaps there are morphogenetic fields emanating from living things which define the shape they should achieve as a whole. This would not be accepted by any ordinary biologist or physicist. 

During the 1940s Kirlian developed apparatus for others to see his new world, and probably made a better living thereby than from his repair business. Before one demonstration Semyon Kirlian became ill and for some reason the apparatus was also playing up, so his wife had to conduct the demonstration, which passed off uneventfully. When Semyon later placed his own hands in the apparatus he saw they were giving off chaotic and unusual luminescences, which he ascribed to the illness. This may be of some interest to bioelectromagnetics scientists who find that the experiments they cannot replicate in their own laboratory work perfectly when they visit the laboratory of the originator and conduct them there! 

For a long time the "Kirlian Movement" was largely unfunded. Under the auspices of Rosemary Steel, a Kettering researcher into the Kirlian effect of many years standing, a Congress was organised in 1990 with most of the world’s Kirlian researchers attending. Finally and painfully the Congress Proceedings have just (1997) emerged into the light of day, but at last there are signs that its use in diagnostics is being taken seriously. The techniques developed by Alfred Benjamin for example where the blood condition is monitored by passing a high voltage current through blood and noting its effects on a liquid crystal, appear to be modern version of the polarimetry for cancer years standing, a Congress was organised in 1990 with most of the world’s Kirlian researchers attending. Finally and painfully the Congress Proceedings have just (1997) emerged into the light of day, but at last there are signs that its use in diagnostics is being taken seriously. The techniques developed by Alfred Benjamin for example where the blood condition is monitored by passing a high voltage current through blood and noting its effects on a liquid crystal, appear to be modern version of the polarimetry for cancer diagnosis developed in the 1930s by Herovsky, and discussed in another part of this book. 

Electroculture: an alternative to nitrogenous fertilisers?
The possibility of enhancing agricultural productivity by the use of atmosheric electricity has been a matter of controversy for 200 years, stated G.H. Sidaway, in his paper on electroculture published in 1975. In 1885 K.S. Liemstrom a physics professor at Finland’s University of Helingfors, developed an"artificial overhead discharge" technique which provided evidence that there may be a beneficial outcome in terms of greater productivity from the delivery of electric energy to plants. When Liemstrom’s book was translated into English it inspired several British researchers, including J.E. Newman of Bristol who claimed a 17 percent accelerated ripening of a cucumber plant, especially when the electricity was applied at night. 

In collaboration with Sir Oliver Lodge Newman tested the system in an eight hectare (20 acres) installation at Evesham, reporting 24-39 percent increases in wheat grain yields, which also produced a superior flour. The universities were not slow to investigate these early successes, and studies at Bristol, Leeds and London University all appeared to confirm the effect. This gave rise to the Electroculture Committee, established by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1918. Tests at Rothhamstead used field strengths of 20kV. with wires spaced between 1.5 and 11 metres apart and hanging from wooden posts 2-4.5 metres above the plants. These trials established that the treatment was most effective when given at an early stage in the growing period. 

At this point politics seems to have reared its ugly head: of the 18 reports on electroculture prepared by the scientists involved, only three were published, the remainder marked "not for publication" were seen by only a restricted audience. Their absence from the literature led people to believe that the trials had not been successful, and by the late 1930s interest in electroculture had largely evaporated, partly due to a lack of any conceptual framework to account for the increased productivity. US trials had, moreover been unable to replicate the UK successes, possibly because they had used autumn wheat rather than the spring wheat usedin the British trials. The work of the British Electroculture Committee ceased in 1937. 

More recently there is some evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields has a beneficial effect on plant growth via photoperiodism. L.E. Murr in 1963 published a study in nature reporting plant growth in response to electric field exposure, and A.P. Krueger, a pioneer in the beneficial effects of negative ions on human health, proposed a mechanism of air-ion induced growth stimulation in the International Journal of Biometeorology the same year. 

G.H. Sidaway wrote to me in 1989 as a result of publicity over my research into cot death, and his letter head at that time made it clear that his firm Derlwyn Systems Ltd. of Cardiff was still active in the business of environmental systems for plant growth enhancement. 

I must confess that at that time the implication of electroculture as an alternative to nitrogenous and other fertilisers had not struck me, nor even now do I understand the economics of the process, or the occupational hazards for those working near the exposure devices, which at 20kV are well above the levels one might see underneath powerlines, and may lead to exposure even higher than the NRPB investigation levels! One would have thought that if the effect is achieved simply as a result of exposure to these field levels, and that no electricity is actually consumed by the system, there would have been some slight evidence of it by now under existing high voltage power lines. It seems a great shame that the system is not being investigated more thoroughly. 

I am conscious that it is not possible to do justice here to the immense body of literature which has quietly accumulated on the exposure of plants to electric and magnetic fields, and indeed the emerging research on the fields emanating from them. Given that plants are the only means whereby solar radiation is converted into the starch and sugars which are an indispensable requirement of organic life, and against a background where conventional fertilisers are failing in their objective, such research is long overdue for publication.