Here are observations from retired Four Winds artist-naturalist-educator Susan Sawyer.

There are all kinds of vines — they are plants that don’t grow stems firm enough to hold themselves up, but use other plants (and any other handy support) to cover a lot of ground, get to the sunlight, and grow a lot of leaves and flowers without spending their energy on making strong stems. This summer I’ve been noticing the way the wild clematis near my house was grabbing onto nearby tall grasses. With their leaf stems! I had seen this before, but it hadn’t quite registered — no tendrils at all, but long, growing, flexible petioles that firmly attach themselves to whatever’s handy. 

The leaves grow in pairs, and in this picture one of the two leaves at each node has found a grass stem and wound right around it.

Below is wild cucumber, which has a two-forked tendril opposite each leaf — and coils itself around whatever it touches, tight as a spring. I think it gets the prize for twistiness.

Vetch, a legume (a family full of vines like peas, pole beans, and groundnut) has double tendrils at the ends of its leaves. Here it has a good grip on a buttercup stem.

Bittersweet, like pole beans, doesn’t have special tendrils, but wraps its whole stem around whatever’s handy. Here two are twined together and headed up the gas tank.

Below are river grapes in a small crabapple tree. Grapes will climb trees to get their leaves up into the sun, and after years their long stems might be as big around as your wrist. 

This short survey leaves out another good climbing method — adhesive discs, which ivy, poison ivy, and Virginia creeper use to climb straight up tree trunks, cliffs, and walls. I’m sure there are other strategies. Most depend on the plant being sensitive to touch — the growing tendrils or stem tips wave themselves around (at plant speed) and can feel when there’s something to wrap onto. Smart, those plants. 

3 thoughts on “Notes On Vines

  1. While the grasping tendrils are remarkable, am I correct that the river grape climbing the crabapple (above- last photo) shows a bunch of brown/black failed tendrils that did not find a suitable target to wrap? I wonder about the mechanism for not continuing to try by unsuccessful tendrils, and the “life” of a tendril that grasps successfully. As usual, Susan has made me look harder and think further, and wonder as I wander.

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