If the short, nearly straight portion of an attached tendril of Passiflora gracilis, (and, as I believe, of other tendrils,) between the opposed spires, be examined, it will be found to be transversely wrinkled in a conspicuous manner on the outside; and this would naturally follow if the outer side had grown more than the inner side, this part being at the same time forcibly prevented from becoming curved. So again the whole outer surface of a spirally wound tendril becomes wrinkled if it be pulled straight. Nevertheless, as the contraction travels from the extremity of a tendril, after it has been stimulated by contact with a support, down to the base, I cannot avoid doubting, from reasons presently to be given, whether the whole effect ought to be attributed to growth. An unattached tendril rolls itself up into a flat helix, as in the case of Cardiospermum, if the contraction commences at the extremity and is quite regular; but if the continued growth of the outer surface is a little lateral, or if the process begins near the base, the terminal portion cannot be rolled up within the basal portion, and the tendril then forms a more or less open spire. A similar result follows if the extremity has caught some object, and is thus held fast.

The tendrils of many kinds of plants, if they catch nothing, contract after an interval of several days or weeks into a spire; but in these cases the movement takes place after the tendril has lost its revolving power and hangs down; it has also then partly or wholly lost its sensibility; so that this movement can be of no use. The spiral contraction of unattached tendrils is a much slower process than that of attached ones. Young tendrils which have caught a support and are spirally contracted, may constantly be seen on the same stem with the much older unattached and uncontracted tendrils. In the Echinocystis I have seen a tendril with the two lateral branches encircling twigs and contracted into beautiful spires, whilst the main branch which had caught nothing remained for many days straight. In this plant I once observed a main branch after it had caught a stick become spirally flexuous in 7 hrs., and spirally contracted in 18 hrs. Generally the tendrils of the Echinocystis begin to contract in from 12 hrs. to 24 hrs. after catching some object; whilst unattached tendrils do not begin to contract until two or three or even more days after all revolving movement has ceased. A full-grown tendril of Passiflora quadrangularis which had caught a stick began in 8 hrs. to contract, and in 24 hrs. formed several spires; a younger tendril, only two-thirds grown, showed the first trace of contraction in two days after clasping a stick, and in two more days formed several spires. It appears, therefore, that the contraction does not begin until the tendril is grown to nearly its full length. Another young tendril of about the same age and length as the last did not catch any object; it acquired its full length in four days; in six additional days it first became flexuous, and in two more days formed one complete spire. This first spire was formed towards the basal end, and the contraction steadily but slowly progressed towards the apex; but the whole was not closely wound up into a spire until 21 days had elapsed from the first observation, that is, until 17 days after the tendril had grown to its full length.

The spiral contraction of tendrils is quite independent of their power of spontaneously revolving, for it occurs in tendrils, such as those of Lathyrus grandiflorus and Ampelopsis hederacea, which do not revolve. It is not necessarily related to the curling of the tips round a support, as we see with the Ampelopsis and Bignonia capreolata, in which the development of adherent discs suffices to cause spiral contraction. Yet in some cases this contraction seems connected with the curling or clasping movement, due to contact with a support; for not only does it soon follow this act, but the contraction generally begins close to the curled extremity, and travels downwards to the base. If, however, a tendril be very slack, the whole length almost simultaneously becomes at first flexuous and then spiral. Again, the tendrils of some few plants never contract spirally unless they have first seized hold of some object; if they catch nothing they hang down, remaining straight, until they wither and drop off: this is the case with the tendrils of Bignonia, which consist of modified leaves, and with those of three genera of the Vitaceae, which are modified flower-peduncles. But in the great majority of cases, tendrils which have never come in contact with any object, after a time contract spirally. All these facts taken together, show that the act of clasping a support and the spiral contraction of the whole length of the tendril, are phenomena not necessarily connected.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 54

Charles Darwin

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

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book