I've always been fascinated by vines. Large woody climbers like grape vine and Dutchman's pipe lend a tropical aspect to our mature temperate forests in Western North Carolina. Roadside tangles like morning glory and bindweed are puzzles of vegetation that may wind clockwise or counter-clockwise. Even kudzu -- that unwelcome intruder from the Orient -- exerts a certain sinister fascination as it builds mounds of suffocating vegatation along summer roadsides.
In "Flowering Vines of the World: An Encyclopedia of Climbing Plants" (1970), Edwin A. Menninger observed that "A silly argument often arises over vines in this twining group, whether they twist to the right north of the equator and to the left `down under.' The equator is not involved; neither is the earth's rotation. At least 95 percent of twisting vines go in a direction characteristic of the species, and this is constant in New York or New Zealand.”
A vine represents a growth form, not a plant family. It's a tactic that enables certain plants to arise quickly by using other plants or objects as support.
Unlike trees and shrubs, which support themselves, vining allows these plants to use relatively little energy producing complex woody issue; instead, their energy is invested primarily in the production of leaves, flowers, fruit, and seed.
On an evening walk through a bared winter woodland, you can spot the creeping, curling, looping outlines of grape, greenbrier, and many other vines outlined against the fading light. They are vivid signatures -- mute evidence of the seething energy that underlies and directs the varied strategies plants have evolved to find a place in the sun.
George Ellison is an award-winning naturalist and writer. His wife, Elizabeth Ellison, is a painter and illustrator who has a gallery studio at 155 Main St., Bryson City. Contact them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 3880 Balltown Road, Bryson City, NC 28713.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Nature Journal: Vines show seething energy underlying plant strategies