Plants climbing by the aid of hooks, or merely scrambling over other plants--Root-climbers, adhesive matter secreted by the rootlets-- General conclusions with respect to climbing plants, and the stages of their development.

Hook-Climbers.--In my introductory remarks, I stated that, besides the two first great classes of climbing plants, namely, those which twine round a support, and those endowed with irritability enabling them to seize hold of objects by means of their petioles or tendrils, there are two other classes, hook-climbers and root-climbers. Many plants, moreover, as Fritz Muller has remarked, {40} climb or scramble up thickets in a still more simple fashion, without any special aid, excepting that their leading shoots are generally long and flexible. It may, however, be suspected from what follows, that these shoots in some cases tend to avoid the light. The few hook- climbers which I have observed, namely, Galium aparine, Rubus australis, and some climbing Roses, exhibit no spontaneous revolving movement. If they had possessed this power, and had been capable of twining, they would have been placed in the class of Twiners; for some twiners are furnished with spines or hooks, which aid them in their ascent. For instance, the Hop, which is a twiner, has reflexed hooks as large as those of the Galium; some other twiners have stiff reflexed hairs; and Dipladenia has a circle of blunt spines at the bases of its leaves. I have seen only one tendril-bearing plant, namely, Smilax aspera, which is furnished with reflexed spines; but this is the case with several branch-climbers in South Brazil and Ceylon; and their branches graduate into true tendrils. Some few plants apparently depend solely on their hooks for climbing, and yet do so efficiently, as certain palms in the New and Old Worlds. Even some climbing Roses will ascend the walls of a tall house, if covered with a trellis. How this is effected I know not; for the young shoots of one such Rose, when placed in a pot in a window, bent irregularly towards the light during the day and from the light during the night, like the shoots of any common plant; so that it is not easy to understand how they could have got under a trellis close to the wall. {41}

Root-climbers.--A good many plants come under this class, and are excellent climbers. One of the most remarkable is the Marcgravia umbellata, the stem of which in the tropical forests of South America, as I hear from Mr. Spruce, grows in a curiously flattened manner against the trunks of trees; here and there it puts forth claspers (roots), which adhere to the trunk, and, if the latter be slender, completely embrace it. When this plant has climbed to the light, it produces free branches with rounded stems, clad with sharp- pointed leaves, wonderfully different in appearance from those borne by the stem as long as it remains adherent. This surprising difference in the leaves, I have also observed in a plant of Marcgravia dubia in my hothouse. Root-climbers, as far as I have seen, namely, the Ivy (Hedera helix), Ficus repens, and F. barbatus, have no power of movement, not even from the light to the dark. As previously stated, the Hoya carnosa (Asclepiadaceae) is a spiral twiner, and likewise adheres by rootlets even to a flat wall. The tendril-bearing Bignonia Tweedyana emits roots, which curve half round and adhere to thin sticks. The Tecoma radicans (Bignoniaceae), which is closely allied to many spontaneously revolving species, climbs by rootlets; nevertheless, its young shoots apparently move about more than can be accounted for by the varying action of the light.

I have not closely observed many root-climbers, but can give one curious fact. Ficus repens climbs up a wall just like Ivy; and when the young rootlets are made to press lightly on slips of glass, they emit after about a week's interval, as I observed several times, minute drops of clear fluid, not in the least milky like that exuded from a wound. This fluid is slightly viscid, but cannot be drawn out into threads. It has the remarkable property of not soon drying; a drop, about the size of half a pin's head, was slightly spread out on glass, and I scattered on it some minute grains of sand. The glass was left exposed in a drawer during hot and dry weather, and if the fluid had been water, it would certainly have dried in a few minutes; but it remained fluid, closely surrounding each grain of sand, during 128 days: how much longer it would have remained I cannot say. Some other rootlets were left in contact with the glass for about ten days or a fortnight, and the drops of secreted fluid were now rather larger, and so viscid that they could be drawn out into threads. Some other rootlets were left in contact during twenty-three days, and these were firmly cemented to the glass. Hence we may conclude that the rootlets first secrete a slightly viscid fluid, subsequently absorb the watery parts, (for we have seen that the fluid will not dry by itself,) and ultimately leave a cement. When the rootlets were torn from the glass, atoms of yellowish matter were left on it, which were partly dissolved by a drop of bisulphide of carbon; and this extremely volatile fluid was rendered very much less volatile by what it had dissolved.

The Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants Page 61

Charles Darwin

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Charles Darwin

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