‘Plantasia,’ the 1970s album for houseplants, gets a reissue and party

In 1976, Mother Earth’s Boutique, a small plant shop on Melrose Ave., handed out free copies of a record called “Plantasia” to customers buying houseplants. The record, which was mostly electronic music, aimed to encourage plants to grow, like a sonic fertilizer.

The album is at the heart of this Saturday’s Getty Museum celebration of the re-release of "Plantasia.”

Mother Earth’s Boutique was owned by Joel Rapp and his wife. Rapp, a TV writer, had become disillusioned with the industry and wandered into a plant store one day. 

"He unloaded all of his woes onto a house plant. He swore that the plant could hear every one of his little woes,” says Sarah Cooper, who organized the upcoming Getty event. “And he took the plant home, and christened it with a name, which was Irving." His obsession grew into a boutique. 

"Plantasia" was a promotional item in Rapp’s shop. Cooper says it was building on a craze started by the 1973 book "The Secret Life of Plants." The book drew on research by Cleve Backster, who worked for the CIA and was an expert in lie detectors.  

"He had applied a lie detector to a plant. And when he tortured it a bit, he thought that he was going to see some waves that were very different from humans," says Cooper. "But instead he noticed that the needle moved in a way that was exactly like the people he would interrogate in CIA sessions. And so he thought that this was so remarkable that it showed that the plants had the same kind of feelings as human beings."

Ultimately, scientists debunked Barker's work as pseudoscience. 

Creating music for plants 

The songs on "Plantasia" were written by Mort Garson, who was one of the first musicians to own a Moog synthesizer. He created the soundtrack to the Apollo 11 moon landing that played on CBS, and wrote music for each zodiac sign.

"He was kind of delving into his occult side, and being an early pioneer of these electronics. and was the perfect person to write this music for plants," Cooper says. 

There was a limited number of "Plantasia" records at the plant store, so the scarcity made it a cult record, says Cooper. 

"Those records found their way to the used record bins, and it started becoming like a legendary collector's item. So that's why it's very exciting that it's being reissued because it's the first time it'll be widely accessible. Before then, it was a very expensive kind of a record bin find."

The Getty will be playing "Plantasia" music in its garden this Saturday from 3:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Guests listen to the songs as they walk around lush vegetation of flowers and bushes.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson