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Growth Type: Stem Tendril Climbers

Stem tendril climbers are a very productive growth type within the group of climbing plants. They grow mobile and touch-sensitive 'extensions' (tendrils), which wind themselves around objects and thus stabilise the upward growing plant. In addition, these tendrils can also be used like “claws,” which can hook themselves into small irregularities like holes, cracks, and crevices, without causing building damage. A similar growth type, the petiole climber, is described separately.


The best known stem tendril climbers are the common grapevine (Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera) and its relatives: the fox/frost grapes- fruitless wild grapes (Vitis riparia/vulpina) and the grape woodbines (Parthenocissus inserta). The Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Engelmannii') also develops tendrils, as do the annual climbers like the 'Chilean glory flower' (Eccremocarpus scaber), sweet peas, and passionflowers. All these plants climb by means of specialised mobile and touch-sensitive tendrils, which twine around shoots or climbing supports. Once firmly established, they stop growing and (in perennial climbers), lignify.

Climbing Supports

Stem tendril climbers require climbing supports which are not too thick, so that the plants can twine around them easily. Wooden trellises with a diameter of approximately 25mm x 25mm are suitable for the woodbines (Parthenocissus sp.). With perennials (like the grapevine), it is recommended that when pruning them back, the lignified tendrils (the woody parts) are removed from the trellis for aesthetic reasons. Naturally, this requires more maintenance.

Suitable Wire Rope Systems

The ideal climbing supports for stem tendril climbers are parallel wire ropes where the plants can climb up step by step, like on a climbing frame or ladder. This includes horizontally or diagonally, and sometimes vertically, arranged ropes; depending on the plant species, the mesh size will have to be rather fine (small to medium). If the plants are perennial, the actual main stems have to be attached to the lowest steel rope (support rope). Medium wire rope systems are usually sufficient; at times heavy or massive systems are recommended to provide a greater distance from the wall, especially for the more sensitive grapevine varieties (mildew-prone).

Wire Rope Systems of “Limited Suitability”

Sometimes support systems with small mesh sizes may be too small for the natural growth of the climbing plant... for this reason we consider them of 'limited suitability.' However, if that particular plant is grown in a pot, its growth is limited, allowing a smaller support (smaller mesh size) to be used. Depending on the plant, very small mesh sizes are not optimal because, despite the higher price, they don't actually offer the plant any advantages and, as mentioned above, only increase the maintenance required.

Unsuitable Wire Rope Systems

Stem tendril climbers are generally very flexible plants; there are hardly any rope systems (arrangements) that are not compatible. Very high systems with large-scale rope systems are an exception-- they are not suitable for the annual tendril climbers and their growth height. 

Grapevine tendril on steel cable
Grapevine tendril on steel cable
Bamboo rod with grape woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta)
Bamboo rod with grape woodbine (Parthenocissus inserta)
Sweet pea, a tendril climber
Sweet pea, a tendril climber
Common grapevine is a typical tendril climber
Common grapevine is a typical tendril climber
Climbing grapevines on a wall; the lignified tendrils from the previous year are visible on the wire ropes
Grapevine as a "stem tendril climber"
Entangled tendrils on a cross mount WM12XX8
Trellis plant with lignified tendrils
Grapevine shoot with lignified tendrils on a wooden trellis (in winter)
Tendril climbers on a trellis