A short time after a tendril has caught a support, it contracts with some rare exceptions into a spire; but the manner of contraction and the several important advantages thus gained have been discussed so lately, that nothing need here be repeated on the subject. Tendrils soon after catching a support grow much stronger and thicker, and sometimes more durable to a wonderful degree; and this shows how much their internal tissues must be changed. Occasionally it is the part which is wound round a support which chiefly becomes thicker and stronger; I have seen, for instance, this part of a tendril of Bignonia aequinoctialis twice as thick and rigid as the free basal part. Tendrils which have caught nothing soon shrink and wither; but in some species of Bignonia they disarticulate and fall off like leaves in autumn.

Any one who had not closely observed tendrils of many kinds would probably infer that their action was uniform. This is the case with the simpler kinds, which simply curl round an object of moderate thickness, whatever its nature may be. {36} But the genus Bignonia shows us what diversity of action there may be between the tendrils of closely allied species. In all the nine species observed by me, the young internodes revolve vigorously; the tendrils also revolve, but in some of the species in a very feeble manner; and lastly the petioles of nearly all revolve, though with unequal power. The petioles of three of the species, and the tendrils of all are sensitive to contact. In the first-described species, the tendrils resemble in shape a bird's foot, and they are of no service to the stem in spirally ascending a thin upright stick, but they can seize firm hold of a twig or branch. When the stem twines round a somewhat thick stick, a slight degree of sensitiveness possessed by the petioles is brought into play, and the whole leaf together with the tendril winds round it. In B. unguis the petioles are more sensitive, and have greater power of movement than those of the last species; they are able, together with the tendrils, to wind inextricably round a thin upright stick; but the stem does not twine so well. B. Tweedyana has similar powers, but in addition, emits aerial roots which adhere to the wood. In B. venusta the tendrils are converted into elongated three-pronged grapnels, which move spontaneously in a conspicuous manner; the petioles, however, have lost their sensitiveness. The stem of this species can twine round an upright stick, and is aided in its ascent by the tendrils seizing the stick alternately some way above and then contracting spirally. In B. littoralis the tendrils, petioles, and internodes, all revolve spontaneously. The stem, however, cannot twine, but ascends an upright stick by seizing it above with both tendrils together, which then contract into a spire. The tips of these tendrils become developed into adhesive discs. B. speciosa possesses similar powers of movement as the last species, but it cannot twine round a stick, though it can ascend by clasping the stick horizontally with one or both of its unbranched tendrils. These tendrils continually insert their pointed ends into minute crevices or holes, but as they are always withdrawn by the subsequent spiral contraction, the habit seems to us in our ignorance useless. Lastly, the stem of B. capreolata twines imperfectly; the much-branched tendrils revolve in a capricious manner, and bend from the light to the dark; their hooked extremities, even whilst immature, crawl into crevices, and, when mature, seize any thin projecting point; in either case they develop adhesive discs, and these have the power of enveloping the finest fibres.

In the allied Eccremocarpus the internodes, petioles, and much- branched tendrils all spontaneously revolve together. The tendrils do not as a whole turn from the light; but their bluntly-hooked extremities arrange themselves neatly on any surface with which they come into contact, apparently so as to avoid the light. They act best when each branch seizes a few thin stems, like the culms of a grass, which they afterwards draw together into a solid bundle by the spiral contraction of all the branches. In Cobaea the finely- branched tendrils alone revolve; the branches terminate in sharp, hard, double, little hooks, with both points directed to the same side; and these turn by well-adapted movements to any object with which they come into contact. The tips of the branches also crawl into dark crevices or holes. The tendrils and internodes of Ampelopsis have little or no power of revolving; the tendrils are but little sensitive to contact; their hooked extremities cannot seize thin objects; they will not even clasp a stick, unless in extreme need of a support; but they turn from the light to the dark, and, spreading out their branches in contact with any nearly flat surface, develop discs. These adhere by the secretion of some cement to a wall, or even to a polished surface; and this is more than the discs of the Bignonia capreolata can effect.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 59

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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