Climbing plants are plants which climb up trees and other tall objects. Many of them are vines whose stems twine around trees and branches. There are quite a number of other methods of climbing.
The climbing habit has evolved many times. In most cases, the climbing plants were more diverse (had more species) than their non–climbing sister groups.
It is a key innovation that has been very successful. Over 130 plant families include climbers. Vine species may represent more than 40% of species diversity in tropical forests.
It has evolved independently in several plant families, using many different climbing methods. Botanists generally divide climbing plants into two broad groups:
1. Bines, which twine their stems around a support. Many bines have rough stems or downward-pointing bristles to aid their grip.
- Hops (used in flavoring beer) are a commercially important bine
- Morning Glory, Ipomoea species
2. Vines that use tendrils, suckers, and other methods.
- Twining petioles (e.g., Clematis species)
- Using tendrils, which may be specialized shoots (Vitaceae), leaves (Bignoniaceae), or even inflorescences (Passiflora)
- Using tendrils that have adhesive pads at the end. The pads attach themselves quite strongly to the support, (Parthenocissus: Virginia Creeper)
- Using thorns (e.g., Climbing Rose) or other hooked structures, such as hooked branches (e.g., Artabotrys hexapetalus)
- By clinging roots (e.g., Ivy, Hedera species).
The Climbing Fetterbush (Pieris phillyreifolia) has a strange habit. It is a woody shrub vine that climbs without clinging roots, tendrils, or thorns. Its stem goes into a crack in the bark of fibrous barked trees (such as bald cypress). The stem flattens and grows up the tree underneath the host tree's outer bark. The fetterbush then sends out branches that emerge near the top of the tree.
Most vines are flowering plants. These may be divided into woody vines or lianas, such as Wisteria, kiwifruit, and Common Ivy, and herbaceous (nonwoody) vines, such as Morning Glory.
One odd group of climbing plants is the fern genus Lygodium, called "Climbing Ferns." The stem does not climb, but rather the fronds (leaves) do. The fronds unroll from the tip, and theoretically never stop growing; they can form thickets as they unroll over other plants, rock faces, and fences.