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.Email author


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.


  1. Andrews HG, Badyal JPS (2014) Bioinspired hook surfaces based upon a ubiquitous weed (Galium aparine) for dry adhesion. J Adhesion Sci Technol 28:1243–1255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arzt E, Gorb S, Spolenak R (2003) From micro to nano contacts in biological attachment devices. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:10603–10606CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  3. Atala C, Gianoli E (2008) Induced twining in Convolvulaceae climbing plants in response to leaf damage. Botany 86:595–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Atala C, Quilodrán M, Molina-Montenegro MA (2014) Induced twining in Ipomoea purpurea (L.) Roth.: response threshold and induction by volatiles and snail damage. Gayana Botanica 71:181–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Autumn K (2006) Properties, principles, and parameters of the gecko adhesive system. In: Smith A, Callow J (eds) Biological adhesives. Springer, Berlin and Heidelberg, pp 225–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Awada H, Mezzasalma L, Blanc S, Flahaut D, Dagron-Lartigau C, Lyskawa J, Woisel P, Bousquet A, Billon L (2015) Biomimetic mussel adhesive inspired anchor to design ZnO@poly (3-hexylthiophene) hybrid core@corona nanoparticles. Macromol Rapid Commun 36:1486–1491CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bauer G, Klein M-C, Gorb SN, Speck T, Voigt D, Gallenmüller F (2011) Always on the bright side: the climbing mechanism of Galium aparine. Proc R Soc B 278:2233–2239CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell P (1958) Twining of the hop (Humulus lupulus L.). Nature 181:1009–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Benedict CV, Picciano PT (1989) Adhesives from marine mussels. Adhesives Renew Resourc 385:465–483CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Biernaskie JM (2011) Evidence for competition and cooperation among climbing plants. Proc R Soc B 278:1989–1996CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Bohn HF, Günther F, Fink S, Speck T (2015) A passionate free climber: structural development and functional morphology of the adhesive tendrils in Passiflora discophora. Int J Plant Sci 176:294–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bowling AJ, Vaughn KC (2008) Structural and immunocytochemical characterization of the adhesive tendril of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia [L.] Planch.). Protoplasma 233:153–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bowling AJ, Vaughn KC (2009) Gelatinous fibers are widespread in coiling tendrils and climbing vines. Am J Bot 96:719–727CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Bowling AJ, Maxwell HB, Vaughn KC (2008) Unusual trichome structure and composition in mericarps of catchweed bedstraw (Galium aparine). Protoplasma 233:223–230CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Britton NL, Brown A (1913) An illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and British Possessions: from Newfoundland to the parallel of the Southern Boundary of Virginia, and from the Atlantic Ocean Westward to the 102nd Meridian. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Burgert I, Fratzl P (2009) Actuation systems in plants as prototypes for bioinspired devices. Phil Trans R Soc A 367:1541–1557CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Burris JN, Lenaghan SC, Zhang M, Stewart CN Jr (2012) Nanoparticle biofabrication using English ivy (Hedera helix). J Nanobiotechnol 10(1):41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Corner EJH (1966) The Natural History of Palms. University of California Press, Berkeley, p 393Google Scholar
  19. Critchfield WB (1970) Shoot growth and leaf dimorphism in Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). Am J Bot 57:535–542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Darwin C (1865) On the movements and habits of climbing plants. J Linn Soc Soc 9:1–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dransfield J (1978) Growth forms of rain forest palms, pp 247–268 in Tomlinson PB, Zimmermann MH (eds). Tropical trees as living systems Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  22. Durigon J, Durán SM, Gianoli E (2013) Global distribution of root climbers is positively associated with precipitation and negatively associated with seasonality. J Trop Ecol 29:357–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Durigon J, Miotto ST, Gianoli E (2014) Distribution and traits of climbing plants in subtropical and temperate South America. J Veg Sci 25:1484–1492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Endress A, Thomson WW (1976) Ultrastructural and cytochemical studies on the developing adhesive disc of Boston ivy tendrils. Protoplasma 88:315–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Endress A, Thomson WW (1977) Adhesion of the Boston ivy tendril. Can J Bot 55:918–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fant C, Elwing H, Hook F (2002) The influence of cross-linking on protein-protein interactions in a marine adhesive: the case of two byssus plaque proteins from the blue mussel. Biomacromol 3:732–741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gallagher RV, Leishman MR (2012) A global analysis of trait variation and evolution in climbing plants. J Biogeogr 39:1757–1771CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gallenmüller F, Feus A, Fiedler K, Speck T (2015) Rose prickles and asparagus spines: different hook structures as attachment devices in climbing plants. PLoS One 10(12):e0143850CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Geesey GG, Wigglesworth-Cooksey B, Cooksey KE (2000) Influence of calcium and other cations on surface adhesion of bacteria and diatoms: A review. Biofouling 15:195–205CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Gianoli E (2004) Evolution of a climbing habit promotes diversification in flowering plants. Proc R Soc B 271:2011–2015CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  31. Gianoli E (2015a) The behavioural ecology of climbing plants. AoB Plants 7:plv013CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Gianoli E (2015b) Evolutionary implications of the climbing habit in plants. In: Schnitzer SA, Bongers F, Burnham RJ, Putz FE (eds) Ecology of Lianas. Wiley, Chichester, pp 239–250Google Scholar
  33. Gianoli E, Saldana A, Jimenez-Castillo M (2012) Ecophysiological traits may explain the abundance of climbing plant species across the light gradient in a temperate rainforest. PLoS One 7(6):e38831CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Gillies AG, Kwak J, Fearing RS (2013) Controllable particle adhesion with a magnetically actuated synthetic gecko adhesive. Adv Funct Mater 23:3256–3261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. González-Teuber M, Gianoli E (2008) Damage and shade enhance climbing and promote associational resistance in a climbing plant. J Ecol 96:122–126Google Scholar
  36. Gorb SN, Varenberg M (2007) Mushroom-shaped geometry of contact elements in biological adhesive systems. J Adhesion Sci Technol 21(12–13):1175–1183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. He T, Zhang L, Deng W (2011) Biological adhesion of Parthenocissus tricuspidata. Arch Biol Sci (Belgrade) 63:393–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hesse L, Wagner S, Neinhuis C (2016) Biomechanics and functional morphology of a climbing monocot. AoB Plants 8:plw005CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Huber G, Gorb SN, Hosoda N, Spolenak R, Arzt E (2007) Influence of surface roughness on gecko adhesion. Acta Biomater 3:607–610CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Isnard S, Silk WK (2009) Moving with climbing plants from Charles Darwin’s time into the 21st century. Am J Bot 96:1205–1221CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Isnard S, Cobb AR, Holbrook NM, Zwieniecki M, Dumais J (2009) Tensioning the helix: a mechanism for force generation in twining plants. Proc R Soc B 276:2643–2650CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Jaffe MJ (1970a) Physiological studies on pea tendrils. VI. The characteristics of sensory perception and transduction. Plant Physiol 45:756–760CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  43. Jaffe MJ (1970b) Reversible force transduction in tendrils of Passiflora coerulea. Plant Cell Physiol 11:47–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jaffe M, Galston A (1968) The physiology of tendrils. Annu Rev Plant Physiol 19:417–434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Junker S (1976) A scanning electron microscopic study on the development of tendrils of Parthenocissus tricuspidata sieb. & zucc. New Phytol 77:741–746CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kalouche S, Wiltsie N, Su H-J, Parness A (2014) Inchworm style gecko adhesive climbing robot, pp 2319–2324 In: 2014 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and SystemsGoogle Scholar
  47. Kerner von Marilaun A (1895) The natural history of plants: their forms, growth, reproduction and distribution. Holt and Company, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kesel AB, Martin A, Seidl T (2003) Adhesion measurements on the attachment devices of the jumping spider Evarcha arcuata. J Exp Biol 206:2733–2738CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Kesel AB, Martin A, Seidl T (2004) Getting a grip on spider attachment: an AFM approach to microstructure adhesion in arthropods. Smart Mater Struct 13:512–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kim I (2014) Structural changes of adhesive discs during attachment of Boston Ivy. Appl Microscopy 14:111–116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lee H, Bruce PL, Phillip BM (2007) A reversible wet/dry adhesive inspired by mussels and geckos. Nature 448:338–341CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Lenaghan SC, Zhang MJ (2012) Real-time observation of the secretion of a nanocomposite adhesive from English ivy (Hedera helix). Plant Sci 183:206–211CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Lenaghan SC, Burris JN, Chourey K, Huang YJ, Xia LJ, Lady B, Sharma R, Pan CL, LeJeune Z, Foister S, Hettich RL, Stewart CN Jr, Zhang M (2013) Isolation and chemical analysis of nanoparticles from English ivy (Hedera helix L.). J R Soc Interface 10(87):20130392CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. Lin Q, Gourdon D, Sun C, Holten-Andersen N, Anderson TH, Waite JH, Israelachvili JN (2007) Adhesion mechanisms of the mussel foot proteins mfp-1 and mfp-3. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:3782–3786CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  55. Loque D, Scheller HV, Pauly M (2015) Engineering of plant cell walls for enhanced biofuel production. Curr Opin Plant Biol 25:151–161CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Melzer B, Steinbrecher T, Seidel R, Kraft O, Schwaiger R, Speck T (2010) The attachment strategy of English ivy: a complex mechanism acting on several hierarchical levels. J R Soc Interface 7:1383–1389CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  57. Melzer B, Seidel R, Steinbrecher T, Speck T (2012) Structure, attachment properties, and ecological importance of the attachment system of English ivy (Hedera helix). J Exp Bot 63:191–201CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Niklas KJ (2011) Climbing plants: attachment and the ascent for light. Curr Biol 21:R199-R201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Nishitani K, Demura T (2015) Editorial: An emerging view of plant cell walls as an apoplastic intelligent system. Plant Cell Physiol 56:177–179CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Palmer LR, Diller ED, Quinn RD (2009) Design of a wall-climbing hexapod for advanced maneuvers, pp. 625–630, In: 2009 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and SystemsGoogle Scholar
  61. Paul G, Yavitt J (2011) Tropical vine growth and the effects on forest succession: a review of the ecology and management of tropical climbing plants. Bot Rev 77:11–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Putz F (1990) Growth habits and trellis requirements of climbing palms (Calamus spp) in north-eastern Queensland. Aust J Bot 38:603–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Rowe N, Isnard S (2009) Biomechanics of climbing palms and how they climb. Plant Sign Behav 4:875–877CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rowe N, Isnard S, Speck T (2004) Diversity of mechanical architectures in climbing plants: An evolutionary perspective. J Plant Growth Regul 23:1108–1128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sangeetha R, Kumar R, Venkatesan R, Doble M, Vedaprakash L, Lakshmi K (2010) Understanding the structure of the adhesive plaque of Amphibalanus reticulatus. J Mater Sci Eng C 30:112–119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Santos D, Heyneman B, Sangbae K, Esparza N, Cutkosky MR (2008) Gecko-inspired climbing behaviors on vertical and overhanging surfaces, pp 1125–1131, In: 2008 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and AutomationGoogle Scholar
  67. Scanlan EM, Mackeen MM, Wormald MR, Davis BG (2010) Synthesis and solution-phase conformation of the RG-I fragment of the plant polysaccharide pectin reveals a modification-modulated assembly mechanism. J Am Chem Soc 132:7238–7239CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Scher JL, Holbrook NM, Silk WK (2001) Temporal and spatial patterns of twining force and lignifcation in stems of Ipomoea purpurea. Planta 213:192–198CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Schweitzer JA, Larson KC (1999) Greater morphological plasticity of exotic honeysuckle species may make them better invaders than native species. J Torrey Bot Soc 126:15–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Seidelmann K, Melzer B, Speck T (2012) The complex leaves of the monkey’s comb (Amphilophium crucigerum, Bignoniaceae): a climbing strategy without glue. Am J Bot 99:1737–1744CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Seo S, Das S, Zalicki P, Mirshafian R, Eisenbach CD, Israelachvili JN, Waite JH, Ahn BK (2015) Micro-phase behavior and enhanced wet-cohesion of synthetic copolyampholytes inspired by a mussel foot protein. J Am Chem Soc 137:9214–9217CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Silk WK, Hubbard M (1991) Axial forces and normal distributed loads in twining stems of morning glory. J Biomechan 24:599–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Silverman HG, Roberto FF (2007) Understanding marine mussel adhesion. Mar Biotechnol 9:661–681CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  74. Steinbrecher T, Danninger E, Harder D, Speck T, Kraft O, Schwaiger R (2010) Quantifying the attachment strength of climbing plants: a new approach. Acta Biomater 6:1497–1504CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Stevens MJ, Steren RE, Hlady V, Stewart RJ (2007) Multiscale structure of the underwater adhesive of Phragmatopoma californica: a nanostructured latex with a steep microporosity gradient. Langmuir 23:5045–5049CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  76. Sullan RMA, Gunari N, Tanur AE, Chan Y, Dickinson GH, Orihuela B, Rittschof D, Walker GC (2009) Nanoscale structures and mechanics of barnacle cement. Biofouling 25:263–275CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  77. Treub M (1883) Sur une nouvelle categorie de plantes grimpantes. Ann Jadin Botan Buitenzorg 3:44–75Google Scholar
  78. Vidoni R, Mimmo T, Pandolfi C (2015) Tendril-based climbing plants to model, simulate and create bio-inspired robotic systems. J Bionic Eng 12:250–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wang J-S, Wang G, Feng X-Q, Kitamura T, Kang Y-L, Yu S-W, Qin Q-H (2013) Hierarchical chirality transfer in the growth of Towel Gourd tendrils. Sci Rep 3:3102CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  80. Wilson T, Posluszny U (2003) Complex tendril branching in two species of Parthenocissus: Implications for the vitaceous shoot architecture. Cn J Bot 81:587–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wu Y, Zhao XP, Zhang MJ (2010) Adhesion mechanics of ivy nanoparticles. J Colloid Interf Sci 344:533–540CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Xia L, Lenaghan SC, Zhang M, Zhang Z, Li Q (2010) Naturally occurring nanoparticles from English ivy: an alternative to metal-based nanoparticles for UV protection. J Nanobiotechnol 8:12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Xia LJ, Lenaghan SC, Zhang MJ, Wu Y, Zhao X, Burris JN, Stewart CN Jr (2011) Characterization of English ivy (Hedera helix) adhesion force and imaging using atomic force microscopy. J Nanopart Res 13:1029–1037CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Yang X, Deng W (2013) Review on the adhesive tendrils of Parthenocissus. Chin Sci Bull 59:113–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Yapo BM (2011) Rhamnogalacturon-I: a structurally puzzling and functionally versatile polysaccharide from plant cell walls and mucilages. Polymer Rev 51:391–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zhang MJ, Liu MZ, Bewick S, Suo ZY (2009) Nanoparticles to increase adhesive properties of biologically secreted materials for surface affixing. J Biomed Nanotechnol 5:294–299CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations