Leaf Secrets

Categories: Artistic/Visual Project or Installation

Submitted by:Rich Thomsen

24 May 2023

Elevator Pitch

Leaf Secrets

Leaf Secrets is an immersive experience that connects people and nature, using plant biodata to trigger sound, light, and imagery.

Product Description

Leaf Secrets

Leaf Secrets seeks to challenge beliefs, inspire new ideas, and cultivate a sense of wonder about plants. The exhibit uses technology to present electrical changes between leaves in a plant as sound, light, and visualizations. As a person approaches, they first see pulsing colored lights wrapped around one or more plants. The illumination of a plant is accompanied by sounds, played through speakers behind each plant. A screen displays animated or static imagery, in time with the sound and light. If a person touches a plant, they may be surprised by a “reaction”, experienced as a burst of movement on the video screen, more intense sounds, and brighter flashes of light. Engaged Leaf Secrets participants will leave the experience with questions and new ideas about the presence of electricity in living things, differences between plants, and what constitutes “communication”.

How It's Innovative

The Leaf Secrets exhibit builds on the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) capability of Data Garden MIDI Sprout and PlantWave devices, which convert plant biodata into MIDI note and continuous controller (CC) messages. The exhibit uses commercial products and open source technologies to transform and amplify the plant output for a more immersive experience. The sounds triggered by the plant are supplemented with bright lights and moving images that engage the senses, creating a deeper sense of connection. In addition, observers may get to see and hear “collaboration” between multiple plants. Each plant’s output controls elements of visualizations on a shared video screen. One plant may impact the color of an image while the other plant controls the size of an object in the visualization. The simultaneous presentation of sound and light coming from each plant brings a sense of connection and cohesiveness to what is happening on the screen.

See MIDI Innovation In Action

Most Inspiring Use Cases

Leaf Secrets was designed to inspire feelings of novelty, joy, and connection. Plants have their own ebb and flow of conductivity or resistance that impacts the experience. Leaf Secrets is most interesting when participants shift from observing to engaging with a plant. That could include touching, sending positive intentions, or speaking to the plants. I observed a glimmer of excitement as a person who had lost some of their motor functions experienced for the first time, an opportunity to “play” a plant. The interaction only lasted a few minutes, but the look I saw on their face inspires me to keep trying different plants and configurations. A “chatty” plant might become quiet during a nearby conversation between two people. It could erupt with a burst of spontaneous activity when something is dropped nearby. And therein lies the inspiration, even if just for a few minutes, to introduce a sense of calm, mystery, or wonder in a world that needs more of it.

Expansion Plans

• Add additional plants (4 is the target)
• Explore use of Raspberry Pi-hosted instruments for reduced cost and complexity
• Create light and video color palettes to support different environments and events
• Use solenoids to strike a singing bowl with a mallet, based on plant-generated MIDI events


With more development, the Leaf Secrets concept could be replicated as a permanent installation, providing novelty in care facilities, museums, and any establishment that features live plants.