COMMELYNACEAE.--Flagellaria Indica.--From dried specimens it is manifest that this plant climbs exactly like the Gloriosa. A young plant 12 inches in height, and bearing fifteen leaves, had not a single leaf as yet produced into a hook or tendril-like filament; nor did the stem revolve. Hence this plant acquires its climbing powers later in life than does the Gloriosa lily. According to Mohl (p. 41), Uvularia (Melanthaceae) also climbs like Gloriosa.

These three last-named genera are Monocotyledons; but there is one Dicotyledon, namely Nepenthes, which is ranked by Mohl (p. 41) amongst tendril-bearers; and I hear from Dr. Hooker that most of the species climb well at Kew. This is effected by the stalk or midrib between the leaf and the pitcher coiling round any support. The twisted part becomes thicker; but I observed in Mr. Veitch's hothouse that the stalk often takes a turn when not in contact with any object, and that this twisted part is likewise thickened. Two vigorous young plants of N. laevis and N. distillatoria, in my hothouse, whilst less than a foot in height, showed no sensitiveness in their leaves, and had no power of climbing. But when N. laevis had grown to a height of 16 inches, there were signs of these powers. The young leaves when first formed stand upright, but soon become inclined; at this period they terminate in a stalk or filament, with the pitcher at the extremity hardly at all developed. The leaves now exhibited slight spontaneous movements; and when the terminal filaments came into contact with a stick, they slowly bent round and firmly seized it. But owing to the subsequent growth of the leaf, this filament became after a time quite slack, though still remaining firmly coiled round the stick. Hence it would appear that the chief use of the coiling, at least whilst the plant is young, is to support the pitcher with its load of secreted fluid.

Summary on Leaf-climbers.--Plants belonging to eight families are known to have clasping petioles, and plants belonging to four families climb by the tips of their leaves. In all the species observed by me, with one exception, the young internodes revolve more or less regularly, in some cases as regularly as those of a twining plant. They revolve at various rates, in most cases rather rapidly. Some few can ascend by spirally twining round a support. Differently from most twiners, there is a strong tendency in the same shoot to revolve first in one and then in an opposite direction. The object gained by the revolving movement is to bring the petioles or the tips of the leaves into contact with surrounding objects; and without this aid the plant would be much less successful in climbing. With rare exceptions, the petioles are sensitive only whilst young. They are sensitive on all sides, but in different degrees in different plants; and in some species of Clematis the several parts of the same petiole differ much in sensitiveness. The hooked tips of the leaves of the Gloriosa are sensitive only on their inner or inferior surfaces. The petioles are sensitive to a touch and to excessively slight continued pressure, even from a loop of soft thread weighing only the one- sixteenth of a grain (4.05 mg.); and there is reason to believe that the rather thick and stiff petioles of Clematis flammula are sensitive to even much less weight if spread over a wide surface. The petioles always bend towards the side which is pressed or touched, at different rates in different species, sometimes within a few minutes, but generally after a much longer period. After temporary contact with any object, the petiole continues to bend for a considerable time; afterwards it slowly becomes straight again, and can then re-act. A petiole excited by an extremely slight weight sometimes bends a little, and then becomes accustomed to the stimulus, and either bends no more or becomes straight again, the weight still remaining suspended. Petioles which have clasped an object for some little time cannot recover their original position. After remaining clasped for two or three days, they generally increase much in thickness either throughout their whole diameter or on one side alone; they subsequently become stronger and more woody, sometimes to a wonderful degree; and in some cases they acquire an internal structure like that of the stem or axis.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 29

Charles Darwin

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book