Potty Gardening Club: Climbing Plants
Climbing plants are some of nature’s cheats and opportunists. They climb up and over other plants to reach the sunlight without wasting energy or producing their own supporting shoots. This adaptation saves the plant the effort of producing a strong supporting trunk of its own. Climbing plants grow across the ground until they come into contact with something that they can climb up. Do they feel for this support to climb up, a little like we can touch things? Well, it’s been shown that some tendrils that climbing plants put out are more touch-sensitive than our skin.
A gentleman named Charles Darwin found that a very fine thread of wool drawn along a tendril of a cucumber plant made it coil. I have found this in my own garden greenhouse with cucumber plants, and have included instructions if you wish to try Darwin’s experiment yourself [PDF Link]. Use cucumber tendrils if you can as they react fastest, but pea tendrils will also work. Remember experiments do not always work, but try it and see. Tendrils are actually modified leaves, but thin and wiry that grow along the stem. They feel and search around in the air until they find something to curl around, like a spring, giving a good grip and securing the plant. Peas sweet peas and vines are all plants that use tendrils.
Another method some climbers use is to twine their stems around the support. They do this in one particular direction; some clockwise (like Honeysuckle), some anti-clockwise (like Wisteria). Nobody really knows why. Now that’s amazing dont you think? Plants like the Clematis have twining leaves to grip supports and some even have little hooks on their stems to get a better grip.
The Ivy plant uses a different method again. They climb with ease using fast-growing micro roots that grow out of its stems pushing into tiny cracks and gaps. It can climb rocks, stone, tree trunks – in fact, any hard surface it comes in contact with. To help the Ivy cling to these surfaces even harder, it produces sticky glue liquid droplets from special roots. It’s like supergluing itself to the wall, and if you have ever tried to pull ivy off a wall, you will know!
Have a look at the pictures below of climbers in my garden. Look around your own garden to see if you have any climbing plants, try to identify what type they are. Do they have tendrils, twisting stems, or small roots and glue like the ivy? Watch how they grow over a few days and see them climb. It really is amazing!
Written by Rob Gagliano, Casual Learning Development Leader and Natural Science Collections Volunteer