Plant Cell Reports

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 565–574 | Cite as

Climbing plants: attachment adaptations and bioinspired innovations

  • Jason N. Burris
  • Scott C. Lenaghan
  • C. Neal StewartJr.


Climbing plants have unique adaptations to enable them to compete for sunlight, for which they invest minimal resources for vertical growth. Indeed, their stems bear relatively little weight, as they traverse their host substrates skyward. Climbers possess high tensile strength and flexibility, which allows them to utilize natural and manmade structures for support and growth. The climbing strategies of plants have intrigued scientists for centuries, yet our understanding about biochemical adaptations and their molecular undergirding is still in the early stages of research. Nonetheless, recent discoveries are promising, not only from a basic knowledge perspective, but also for bioinspired product development. Several adaptations, including nanoparticle and adhesive production will be reviewed, as well as practical translation of these adaptations to commercial applications. We will review the botanical literature on the modes of adaptation to climb, as well as specialized organs—and cellular innovations. Finally, recent molecular and biochemical data will be reviewed to assess the future needs and new directions for potential practical products that may be bioinspired by climbing plants.


Nanoparticles Tendrils Hooks Adhesion Biomimicry Engineering Robotics 



We thank the National Science Foundation CBET #0965877, the University of Tennessee, and the Ivan Racheff Chair of Excellence Endowment for funding. We appreciate interactions and stimulating conversations with Mingjun Zhang, an important contributor to this field. We thank Victoria Brooks for rendering Figure 1. The authors also wish to thank two anonymous peer reviewers for their very helpful comments that resulted in a stronger paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Food ScienceUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical EngineeringUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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