How Vines Climb

Vines are amazing the way they use support from their surroundings to get where they want to go. They will grow up a trellis or a tree, a fence or some furniture, whatever is available to serve as a bridge to the sunshine. Growing toward the sun is termed phototropism.  More sunshine means more photosynthesis which means more food.

swirling toward the sunlight
swirling toward the sunlight

Other types of plants have to support themselves as they rise, but not the vines. All they need is a crafty way of growing that enables them to attach themselves to surrounding structures. Plant growth in response to touch is termed thigmotropism. Vines use this to grow in response to touching things that might serve as a support.

Vines use different ways of attachment. Some actually twine the whole growing end of the stem around a nearby, taller structure or plant. Wisteria does this. (I have a wisteria story I’ll save for a later post.) Morning glories do this also. Morning glories are very ambitious in their growth. The vine seems to reach for the sky and count on something to catch it. Maybe that optimism is why they are so successful.

Reach for the Sky
Reach for the Sky

Cardinal Climber does this.  It swings it’s little vine arms in the breeze hoping to catch a hold on something.

Cardinal Climber Vine
Cardinal Climber Vine

Hummingbird/Cypress Vine does this, too.  It almost makes me sad when it outgrows the lamppost. They little vines viciously wrap around each other trying to stay up.

Hummingbird/Cypress Vine
Hummingbird/Cypress Vine

There are vines with their own little swirling tendrils. These often grow out straight until they touch something and then curl around it like a tiny pig’s tail. My peas do this daintily.  I wouldn’t count on much support from a picky pea tendril.

Pea Tendril branched, thread- structure.
Pea Tendril branched, thread- structure.

Climbing Okra (Luffa acutangula) has hefty, T-shaped tendrils that are strong enough to support its giant fruit.

Climbing okra/Luffa Vina
Climbing okra/Luffa Vina
Luffa/
Luffa/”okra” fruit

Some plants have special little leafstalks in charge of supporting the rest of the plant. Clematis does this. Mine has been pitiful this year, but hopefully there is enough there to get a picture of this.  Maybe my particular clematis had some lazy leafstalks that refused to support the rest of their vine?

Clematis leafstalk hugging the trellis
Clematis leafstalk hugging the trellis

Another way vines borrow support from their surroundings is through holdfasts or rootlets that actually dig into the structure. Holdfasts are special little disks that glue themslves to the structures. (not pictured)

I had English ivy (Hedera helix) that dug its little, brown, hairy, rootlets into the bark on the trunk of a tall, old pine once. When I tried to remove it, it pulled the bark off the tree.  One of my gardening mantras is, “Never ever plant ivy.”   Don’t bother to argue with me on this. It took me months of pulling and cutting in snakechaps to get rid of that viscious vine.

As you can see, I have many vines growing in my garden.They don’t get growing until it gets warmer in the summer. I try to train them up onto the fences and trellises early. By August, they are tall and strong and need some cutting back.

We have a structure that used to be the children’s playhouse. Now, it’s my Vine House. This year it was supposed to be covered with Cardinal Climber on the front, Moonflower on the side, and Climbing Okra up the back.  The Moonflowers have not shown their faces yet and the Morning Glories invited themselves, as usual.

Vine House
Vine House

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