The tendrils are thin, from 7 to 9 inches in length, with a pair of short lateral branches rising not far from the base. The tip is slightly and permanently curved, so as to act to a limited extent as a hook. The concave side of the tip is highly sensitive to a touch; but not so the convex side, as was likewise observed to be the case with other species of the family by Mohl (p. 65). I repeatedly proved this difference by lightly rubbing four or five times the convex side of one tendril, and only once or twice the concave side of another tendril, and the latter alone curled inwards. In a few hours afterwards, when the tendrils which had been rubbed on the concave side had straightened themselves, I reversed the process of rubbing, and always with the same result. After touching the concave side, the tip becomes sensibly curved in one or two minutes; and subsequently, if the touch has been at all rough, it coils itself into a helix. But the helix will, after a time, straighten itself, and be again ready to act. A loop of thin thread only one-sixteenth of a grain in weight caused a temporary flexure. The lower part was repeatedly rubbed rather roughly, but no curvature ensued; yet this part is sensitive to prolonged pressure, for when it came into contact with a stick, it would slowly wind round it.

One of my plants bore two shoots near together, and the tendrils were repeatedly drawn across one another, but it is a singular fact that they did not once catch each other. It would appear as if they had become habituated to contact of this kind, for the pressure thus caused must have been much greater than that caused by a loop of soft thread weighing only the one-sixteenth of a grain. I have, however, seen several tendrils of Bryonia dioica interlocked, but they subsequently released one another. The tendrils of the Echinocystis are also habituated to drops of water or to rain; for artificial rain made by violently flirting a wet brush over them produced not the least effect.

The revolving movement of a tendril is not stopped by the curving of its extremity after it has been touched. When one of the lateral branches has firmly clasped an object, the middle branch continues to revolve. When a stem is bent down and secured, so that the tendril depends but is left free to move, its previous revolving movement is nearly or quite stopped; but it soon begins to bend upwards, and as soon as it has become horizontal the revolving movement recommences. I tried this four times; the tendril generally rose to a horizontal position in an hour or an hour and a half; but in one case, in which a tendril depended at an angle of 45 degrees beneath the horizon, the uprising took two hours; in half an hour afterwards it rose to 23 degrees above the horizon and then recommenced revolving. This upward movement is independent of the action of light, for it occurred twice in the dark, and on another occasion the light came in on one side alone. The movement no doubt is guided by opposition to the force of gravity, as in the case of the ascent of the plumules of germinating seeds.

A tendril does not long retain its revolving power; and as soon as this is lost, it bends downwards and contracts spirally. After the revolving movement has ceased, the tip still retains for a short time its sensitiveness to contact, but this can be of little or no use to the plant.

Though the tendril is highly flexible, and though the extremity travels, under favourable circumstances, at about the rate of an inch in two minutes and a quarter, yet its sensitiveness to contact is so great that it hardly ever fails to seize a thin stick placed in its path. The following case surprised me much: I placed a thin, smooth, cylindrical stick (and I repeated the experiment seven times) so far from a tendril, that its extremity could only curl half or three-quarters round the stick; but I always found that the tip managed in the course of a few hours to curl twice or even thrice round the stick. I at first thought that this was due to rapid growth on the outside; but by coloured points and measurements I proved that there had been no sensible increase of length within the time. When a stick, flat on one side, was similarly placed, the tip of the tendril could not curl beyond the flat surface, but coiled itself into a helix, which, turning to one side, lay flat on the little flat surface of wood. In one instance a portion of tendril three-quarters of an inch in length was thus dragged on to the flat surface by the coiling in of the helix.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 45

Charles Darwin

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

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book