Tendrils of which the extremities are permanently and slightly curved, are sensitive only on the concave surface; other tendrils, such as those of the Cobaea (though furnished with horny hooks directed to one side) and those of Cissus discolor, are sensitive on all sides. Hence the tendrils of this latter plant, when stimulated by a touch of equal force on opposite sides, did not bend. The inferior and lateral surfaces of the tendrils of Mutisia are sensitive, but not the upper surface. With branched tendrils, the several branches act alike; but in the Hanburya the lateral spur-like branch does not acquire (for excellent reasons which have been explained) its sensitiveness nearly so soon as the main branch. With most tendrils the lower or basal part is either not at all sensitive, or sensitive only to prolonged contact. We thus see that the sensitiveness of tendrils is a special and localized capacity. It is quite independent of the power of spontaneously revolving; for the curling of the terminal portion from touch does not in the least interrupt the former movement. In Bignonia unguis and its close allies, the petioles of the leaves, as well as the tendrils, are sensitive to a touch.

Twining plants when they come into contact with a stick, curl round it invariably in the direction of their revolving movement; but tendrils curl indifferently to either side, in accordance with the position of the stick and the side which is first touched. The clasping movement of the extremity is apparently not steady, but undulatory or vermicular in its nature, as may be inferred from the curious manner in which the tendrils of the Echinocystis slowly crawled round a smooth stick.

As with a few exceptions tendrils spontaneously revolve, it may be asked,--why have they been endowed with sensitiveness?--why, when they come into contact with a stick, do they not, like twining plants, spirally wind round it? One reason may be that they are in most cases so flexible and thin, that when brought into contact with any object, they would almost certainly yield and be dragged onwards by the revolving movement. Moreover, the sensitive extremities have no revolving power as far as I have observed, and could not by this means curl round a support. With twining plants, on the other hand, the extremity spontaneously bends more than any other part; and this is of high importance for the ascent of the plant, as may be seen on a windy day. It is, however, possible that the slow movement of the basal and stiffer parts of certain tendrils, which wind round sticks placed in their path, may be analogous to that of twining plants. But I hardly attended sufficiently to this point, and it would have been difficult to distinguish between a movement due to extremely dull irritability, from the arrestment of the lower part, whilst the upper part continued to move onwards.

Tendrils which are only three-fourths grown, and perhaps even at an earlier age, but not whilst extremely young, have the power of revolving and of grasping any object which they touch. These two capacities are generally acquired at about the same period, and both fail when the tendril is full grown. But in Cobaea and Passiflora punctata the tendrils begin to revolve in a useless manner, before they have become sensitive. In the Echinocystis they retain their sensitiveness for some time after they have ceased to revolve and after they have sunk downwards; in this position, even if they were able to seize an object, such power would be of no service in supporting the stem. It is a rare circumstance thus to detect any superfluity or imperfection in the action of tendrils--organs which are so excellently adapted for the functions which they have to perform; but we see that they are not always perfect, and it would be rash to assume that any existing tendril has reached the utmost limit of perfection.

Some tendrils have their revolving motion accelerated or retarded, in moving to or from the light; others, as with the Pea, seem indifferent to its action; others move steadily from the light to the dark, and this aids them in an important manner in finding a support. For instance, the tendrils of Bignonia capreolata bend from the light to the dark as truly as a wind-vane from the wind. In the Eccremocarpus the extremities alone twist and turn about so as to bring their finer branches and hooks into close contact with any dark surface, or into crevices and holes.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 58

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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