An Introduction to the Science of Electroculture

David Wechsler
Dec 31, 2019 · 6 min read

A number of years ago I did my first experiment in electroculture and it completely blew my mind (I’ll update this post and add a link to it later). While at first (pre-experiment) I was skeptical, yet once I saw the effects first hand, I really couldn’t believe my eyes… yet in the months and years that followed since then, I’ve completely delved into the topic so I could completely understand the science behind-the-scenes. Here’s high-level summary of my findings:

To start, I’ve learned that it’s possible for electric fields to have an effect on the following lifeforms:

  • Plants
  • Microbes
  • Soils
  • And more too…

I’ve learned most of my insights by diving deep into various complex subjects including plant electrophysiology and electrochemistry. These sciences basically cover the role of electricity in the plant biology and chemistry, respectively. Here’s a sampling of what I have learned so far:

The Electrical Nature of Plants

Trees and Plants are Naturally Electrical

Plants are sensitive to many different forms of stimuli. Most people know that plants respond to well-known environmental conditions such as temperature, light quality and direction, and moisture. They respond to other forms of stimuli as well. Less well-known forms include touch stimulus as in the case of the Venus fly-trap, and stimulation by electric fields as well.

With regards to electricity’s role in plant development, it is known that by the intrinsic nature of chemical compounds in general, that electricity really governs life. It is everywhere in nature. From the tiniest of cells from which plants are made, their cell walls are made to react and respond to various electric fields that are naturally present everywhere within their environment. How is it possible that electricity is everywhere?? They are — in many ways, but most importantly by the fact that plant nutrients themselves are electrically charged.

As many of the nutrients are based on charged atoms, e.g. calcium has its +2 charge, and hydrogen has a +1 charge; in aggregate, these charges can produce a larger accumulations of electrical voltage. While electric fields exist when the charges are just static, not moving around anywhere, it is their movement that makes things interesting. Since cells and in particular, cell walls, are composed of various gateways for nutrients to pass through, it is through these mechanisms that electric fields are constantly in a state of ebb and flow throughout the plant.

For instance, plant roots create electric fields within their internal structures due to the movement of various ionic flows through cells and higher-level tissues. These ions enter the plant through the root hairs which absorb water-soluble nutrients. At the same time, other charged compounds can be released from the plant roots as well. An example of this would be root exudates which are complex chemical compounds released from the roots that serve the purpose of acting as antibiotics or chemical messengers.

Physiological Effects of Electricity on Plants

Since plants are strongly affected by electrochemical reactions occurring at the cellular level, what would happen if electric fields were directly applied to plants or their nearby surroundings? What effect would they have?

It turns out that there is a quite a bit of research on this topic, and in this article I plan on sharing some of the highlights with you.

Cellular Signaling

Did you know that plants have a high-speed communication networks within them?

It’s true… instead of sending information in the form of bits and bytes as computers do, biological information is shared throughout the plant by way of two main signaling methods:

  • Actions Potentials
  • Chemical messaging

In case you never heard of an action potential (AP) before, it’s basically a response that occurs in certain types of electrically-sensitive cells.

In essence, when there is enough of a charge buildup on the outside of a cell, there is a massive inrush of ions from the outside of the cell to the inside and back out again. The net effect of this back-and-forth of charge is the creation of a voltage spike that affects all of the surrounding cells that are sensitive to these types of signals. (See the Khan Academy’s tutorial on action potentials for more information — note: while this covers a slightly different version meant for human vs plant biology, they’re essentially the same)

Metabolic increases partially occur because of increases In action potentials. Simultaneous to the release of the AP is the release of all of the chemical buildup. And like the AP, but slower, there is a chemical chain-reaction effect that causes the ions flowing out of one cell to propagate to many of the other surrounding cells.

The chemicals and the APs are capable of spreading like a lightning-fast wildfire throughout the plant. APs can travel to most places within a plant within a fraction of a second!

Electroculture’s Effects on Soils & Plants

Effect on Plants

In addition to plants’ response to innate electric fields, the use of external electric fields have been known to bring about many physiological changes that affect the growth of the roots, shoots, flowers, fruits, and more. Some high-level changes include:

  • Changes in growth behavior due to synthesis of growth hormones
  • Increased nutrient uptake & assimilation
  • Increased metabolism & respiration
  • Genetic and hormonal activations, etc.
  • And more…

Effect on Soil Organisms

It is well-known that bacteria in soil provides benefits for plants and soils in many different ways. For example, when one form of bacteria called Rhizobium that lives in the roots of the nitrogen-fixing plants (like peas and beans) enters the plant roots, it creates swellings called nodules where the bacteria further work on nitrogen conversion.

Research into the effects of electricity upon bacteria suggests the following:

  • Bacteria possesses different electrical charges
  • Bacteria can be manipulated by electric fields
  • Electric fields increase bacterial metabolic activity
  • Electric fields accelerate the bacterial reproduction rates

Effects on the Soil

Since living plants and microbes are both affected by electric fields in a myriad of ways, it turns out that they produce secondary effects upon the soil in which they reside. For instance, researchers like Wang Yaqin, et. al. have found that it is capable of Improving soil structure — that is — increasing the size of soil aggregates. Why is this important? With larger aggregates of soil particles, greater amounts of surface area are exposed giving the soil more “pore space”, or spaces where air and water can collect. It also makes it easier for plant roots to grow, compared to growing in tightly-compacted soils.

These methods also cause an increase in oxygen levels within the soil. In combination with what was mentioned earlier via an increase in aggregate size, through electrolysis reactions at water-soil boundaries, oxygen is formed under the ground, providing more opportunities for plant roots to become oxygenated.

Summary

We hope that you learned a little about how the growth of plants can be improved when placed under the influence of electric fields. It’s amazing that only minute amounts of electrical current are needed to bring about substantial changes in both the ecosystems of the soil and the physiology of plants. In future posts you can expect us to go into more detail on each of these topics.

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