But the tendril thus acquires a very insecure hold, and generally after a time slips off. In one case alone the helix subsequently uncoiled itself, and the tip then passed round and clasped the stick. The formation of the helix on the flat side of the stick apparently shows us that the continued striving of the tip to curl itself closely inwards gives the force which drags the tendril round a smooth cylindrical stick. In this latter case, whilst the tendril was slowly and quite insensibly crawling onwards, I observed several times through a lens that the whole surface was not in close contact with the stick; and I can understand the onward progress only by supposing that the movement is slightly undulatory or vermicular, and that the tip alternately straightens itself a little and then again curls inwards. It thus drags itself onwards by an insensibly slow, alternate movement, which may be compared to that of a strong man suspended by the ends of his fingers to a horizontal pole, who works his fingers onwards until he can grasp the pole with the palm of his hand. However this may be, the fact is certain that a tendril which has caught a round stick with its extreme point, can work itself onwards until it has passed twice or even thrice round the stick, and has permanently grasped it.

Hanburya Mexicana.--The young internodes and tendrils of this anomalous member of the family, revolve in the same manner and at about the same rate as those of the Echinocystis. The stem does not twine, but can ascend an upright stick by the aid of its tendrils. The concave tip of the tendril is very sensitive; after it had become rapidly coiled into a ring owing to a single touch, it straightened itself in 50 m. The tendril, when in full action, stands vertically up, with the projecting extremity of the young stem thrown a little on one side, so as to be out of the way; but the tendril bears on the inner side, near its base, a short rigid branch, which projects out at right angles like a spur, with the terminal half bowed a little downwards. Hence, as the main vertical branch revolves, the spur, from its position and rigidity, cannot pass over the extremity of the shoot, in the same curious manner as do the three branches of the tendril of the Echinocystis, namely, by stiffening themselves at the proper point. The spur is therefore pressed laterally against the young stem in one part of the revolving course, and thus the sweep of the lower part of the main branch is much restricted. A nice case of co-adaptation here comes into play: in all the other tendrils observed by me, the several branches become sensitive at the same period: had this been the case with the Hanburya, the inwardly directed, spur-like branch, from being pressed, during the revolving movement, against the projecting end of the shoot, would infallibly have seized it in a useless or injurious manner. But the main branch of the tendril, after revolving for a time in a vertical position, spontaneously bends downwards; and in doing so, raises the spur-like branch, which itself also curves upwards; so that by these combined movements it rises above the projecting end of the shoot, and can now move freely without touching the shoot; and now it first becomes sensitive.

The tips of both branches, when they come into contact with a stick, grasp it like any ordinary tendril. But in the course of a few days, the lower surface swells and becomes developed into a cellular layer, which adapts itself closely to the wood, and firmly adheres to it. This layer is analogous to the adhesive discs formed by the extremities of the tendrils of some species of Bignonia and of Ampelopsis; but in the Hanburya the layer is developed along the terminal inner surface, sometimes for a length of 1.75 inches, and not at the extreme tip. The layer is white, whilst the tendril is green, and near the tip it is sometimes thicker than the tendril itself; it generally spreads a little beyond the sides of the tendril, and is fringed with free elongated cells, which have enlarged globular or retort-shaped heads. This cellular layer apparently secretes some resinous cement; for its adhesion to the wood was not lessened by an immersion of 24 hrs. in alcohol or water, but was quite loosened by a similar immersion in ether or turpentine. After a tendril has once firmly coiled itself round a stick, it is difficult to imagine of what use the adhesive cellular layer can be. Owing to the spiral contraction which soon ensues, the tendrils were never able to remain, excepting in one instance, in contact with a thick post or a nearly flat surface; if they had quickly become attached by means of the adhesive layer, this would evidently have been of service to the plant.

Charles Darwin

All Pages of This Book