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Tetrastigma: Lianas

A constant struggle is underway in the thick tropical forests: a struggle for light. It’s very dark in the lowest levels of the forest. To force their way into the upper regions, trees have to invest a lot of biomass in a thick, sturdy trunk. Lianas have found a shortcut to reach the top of the forest: instead of growing their own thick trunk, they borrow one, climbing up other trees. Saving on biomass, they still need solid stems to counteract gravity. Imagine a thunderstorm in these forests and the lianas within the canopy! Lianas can take on beautiful shapes: spirals twisted like corkscrews, ribbons, zig-zag steps, forming socalled monkey ladders, and many others.

Lianas have developed independently in many different families of plants. Climbing passion flowers and species of Aristolochia have eye-catching blossoms, one reason they’re found in almost every botanic garden. You’ll rarely catch sight of these beautiful flowers in the wild, as they bloom in the forest canopy, many meters above the ground.

Lianas aren’t true parasites, meaning they do not grow into the tissues of the supporting trees. However, they damage their “host” trees indirectly by reducing the amount of sunlight they receive and by the extra weight they place on the host, which can be immense, especially when it has rained and the plants are wet.



Audio file download
Tetrastigma: Lianas (MP3, 631 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg