When a revolving tendril strikes against a stick, the branches quickly bend round and clasp it. The little hooks here play an important part, as they prevent the branches from being dragged away by the rapid revolving movement, before they have had time to clasp the stick securely. This is especially the case when only the extremity of a branch has caught hold of a support. As soon as a tendril has bent a smooth stick or a thick rugged post, or has come into contact with planed wood (for it can adhere temporarily even to so smooth a surface as this), the same peculiar movements may be observed as those described under Bignonia capreolata and Eccremocarpus. The branches repeatedly lift themselves up and down; those which have their hooks already directed downwards remaining in this position and securing the tendril, whilst the others twist about until they succeed in arranging themselves in conformity with every irregularity of the surface, and in bringing their hooks into contact with the wood. The use of the hooks was well shown by giving the tendrils tubes and slips of glass to catch; for these, though temporarily seized, were invariably lost, either during the re- arrangement of the branches or ultimately when spiral contraction ensued.

The perfect manner in which the branches arranged themselves, creeping like rootlets over every inequality of the surface and into any deep crevice, is a pretty sight; for it is perhaps more effectually performed by this than by any other species. The action is certainly more conspicuous, as the upper surfaces of the main stem, as well as of every branch to the extreme hooks, are angular and green, whilst the lower surfaces are rounded and purple. I was led to infer, as in former cases, that a less amount of light guided these movements of the branches of the tendrils. I made many trials with black and white cards and glass tubes to prove it, but failed from various causes; yet these trials countenanced the belief. As a tendril consists of a leaf split into numerous segments, there is nothing surprising in all the segments turning their upper surfaces towards the light, as soon as the tendril is caught and the revolving movement is arrested. But this will not account for the whole movement, for the segments actually bend or curve to the dark side besides turning round on their axes so that their upper surfaces may face the light.

When the Cobaea grows in the open air, the wind must aid the extremely flexible tendrils in seizing a support, for I found that a mere breath sufficed to cause the extreme branches to catch hold by their hooks of twigs, which they could not have reached by the revolving movement. It might have been thought that a tendril, thus hooked by the extremity of a single branch, could not have fairly grasped its support. But several times I watched cases like the following: tendril caught a thin stick by the hooks of one of its two extreme branches; though thus held by the tip, it still tried to revolve, bowing itself to all sides, and by this movement the other extreme branch soon caught the stick. The first branch then loosed itself, and, arranging its hooks, again caught hold. After a time, from the continued movement of the tendril, the hooks of a third branch caught hold. No other branches, as the tendril then stood, could possibly have touched the stick. But before long the upper part of the main stem began to contract into an open spire. It thus dragged the shoot which bore the tendril towards the stick; and as the tendril continually tried to revolve, a fourth branch was brought into contact. And lastly, from the spiral contraction travelling down both the main stem and the branches, all of them, one after another, were ultimately brought into contact with the stick. They then wound themselves round it and round one another, until the whole tendril was tied together in an inextricable knot. The tendrils, though at first quite flexible, after having clasped a support for a time, become more rigid and stronger than they were at first. Thus the plant is secured to its support in a perfect manner.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 39

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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