Hendrick’s Gin has conducted a somewhat unorthodox, but genuinely scientific experiment with cucumber scientist Graham Brown of the University of Sydney to quantify the true sensitivity of cucumbers – and the results are astonishing.
Exhibiting traits usually associated with sentient beings, the green fruits show undeniably impressive abilities for reacting to outside stimuli, and grow larger and juicier as a result of unconventional caring methods, indicating they are acutely aware of their surroundings.
The gin-maker is now inviting budding botanists to join in a global experiment to cultivate the most flavoursome cucumber, taking inspiration from the avant-garde caring techniques used by Graham, in time for World Cucumber Day on June 14.
As they grew from blind seedling to majestic maturity, three groups of cucumbers were exposed to a particular genre of music: classical, jazz or rock, using a CD boombox at maximum volume. A fourth group sat in uncomfortable silence.
The cucumbers that listened to rock produced measurably larger, better-tasting fruits, cylindrical in shape, with no curving and smooth dark green skin. In stark contrast the jazz plants showed disdain for their music by producing malformed fruits with curved and pointed edges. The plants exposed to classical melodies displayed a tangible fondness for it, growing healthy and shiny skinned after listening to Beethoven and Bach.
Brown comments: “We knew plants sense and respond to acoustic energy, such as soundwaves using the trichomes, or hairs, on their fruits and leaves, but we weren’t expecting them to display such a definitive taste in music. Dry matter accumulation (the build-up of physical mass) was highest in the rock music treatment, indicated by the fact the plants grew larger as they were able to harness more light and photosynthesise more. The extra growth, perhaps triggered by hormones, gave a more bountiful harvest of larger and juicier fruit. Malformed fruits in the jazz treatment may indicate that the nutrients and water supplies were interrupted by the genre’s jaunty soundwaves.”
Not only do cucumbers love music, but they also show preferences for certain scents, despite having no conventional sensory receptors associated with smell (AKA a nose). Growing specimens were divided into three groups, one spritzed with dill, another with sage and the final group was left scent free.
After snacking upon the subjects, it was observed that those spritzed with dill were the tastiest, while sage made them bitter, perhaps indicating that cucumbers derive some type of satisfaction from pickling.
Brown explains: “Plants can sense chemicals in the air, such as volatiles released during grazing by herbivores and respond by increasing production of protective chemicals. When growing cucumbers, it would be wise to avoid wearing or spritzing anything too harsh in scent near your subjects, to prevent the cucumbers absorbing it. You don’t want a cucumber that tastes like your aftershave, after all.”
The final test saw subjects bundled into tiny sleeping bags for added protection and comfort, resulting in their skin growing softer and lighter, and their flesh sweeter compared to those left naked and exposed.
Graham explains: “It would appear that by protecting the growing skin from the drying atmosphere and light, the fruits are tender and sweeter.”
Furthermore, the humble green fruits use a developed sense of touch to help them grow, using their tendrils to feel and reach for surfaces to hold onto for support, particularly at night. It seems they are aware of their surroundings and can sense objects nearby.
It’s not just cucumbers that are more sensitive than we realised. Previous studies have proven plants have 20 different senses, compared to humans’ five*, and they are inherently intelligent, communicating with the world and one another using electric signals, giving off warning signs when in danger, and building relationships with other species and insects to survive and prosper.
Graham, who has investigated and bred plants for over 30 years, began working with cucumbers ten years ago in his research lab in Sydney, where he has every scientific contraption available to measure the plants’ reactions to the outside world. This research helped Hendrick’s Gin to develop a more meaningful understanding of its preferred garnish.
Individuals can now put Graham’s findings to the test, and probe their own imaginative hypotheses by singing to the fruits as they grow or reading the young seedlings classical literature at night time.
By cultivating and pampering their own cucumbers, green-fingered individuals will play their part in celebrating World Cucumber Day – an annual celebration inviting people to embrace the unusual in honour of the remarkable and virtuous green fruit.