Plant Tendrils and Bio-inspired Designs

Strong woody tendrils of grapes
Coiled tendril of grape around supporting material

Climbing plants deploy outstanding grasping strategies to climb, using extremely flexible, sensitive, and filiform robotic organs known as ‘tendrils’. It has been perceived that tendrils have 360° in-built sensors to locate supports around them for the plant to climb. Some plant tendrils (e.g. grapes) have very strong natural designs and materials that result in a strong death-grip like ‘Geckos’ lizards. It has been physically observed that grape tendrils’ are so strong and woody in nature that after drying, they remain attached to props.

Different plants use varied twisting and untwisting maneouvers to climb and cling around existing supporting material. If there are props at a distance, tendrils grow spirally and further projectile (jump in particular direction and angle with particular speed) using plant water & sap to control maneuovers and grasp.

It has also been observed that plants determine and modify shapes, sizes, thickness, length of tendrils after recognising existing supporting material around them. Generally, apical new tendrils of cucurbits grow straight and without twisted coils, and auxiliary tendrils are of various sizes and shapes with coils to climb around.

Apical straight tendrils in sponge gourd
Twisted and coiled auxiliary tendrils in sponge gourd
Bitter gourd tendril trailing around climbing and untwisted coils
Apical tendrils in summer squash

Different plants have evolved using all these innovations and techniques. Traditional growers have observed and applied all these inspiring designs and innovations from agriculture to architecture. These bio-inspired designs are further being studied and deployed under the mainstream of biomimicry from design of numerous industrial materials to intelligent robotic applications.

The bio-mimetic movements and coiled structures of plant tendrils have been studied and deployed from design of fabricating strategy for crude oil cleanup to new concepts of robot grasping. It is also expected that the unique structures, shapes, movements can help design numerous applications in energy conservation, tissue engineering, intelligent devices and smart textile & sports materials in the near future.

This article is result of personal observations and imagination of Vipesh Garg, and proof read by Premila Parera from Urban Leaves, India.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store