Roots of English ivy attach firmly to surfaces using a multi-step attachment strategy involving glue and shape-changing root hairs.

Edit Hook

English ivy can attach itself to nearly any surface using a strategy involving natural-forming glue and shape-changing root hairs. Along the underside of its stems, the ivy sprouts thin roots that can cling to small surface bumps on trees, rocks, and building plaster. Once the roots are in place, they secrete a glue-like substance to adhere to that location. As a final means for securing a tight hold, the root can change shape and scrunch itself into a tight spiral shape around its attachment point. These different stages of attachment can vary to enable the ivy to secure itself to a range of surfaces.

This strategy was co-contributed by EcoRise Youth Innovations

Edit Summary


“English ivy (Hedera helix L.) is able to grow on vertical substrates such as trees, rocks and house plaster, thereby attaching so firmly to the surface that when removed by force typically whole pieces of the climbing substrate are torn off. The structural details of the attachment process are not yet entirely understood. We studied the attachment process of English ivy in detail and suggest a four-phase process to describe the attachment strategy: (i) initial physical contact, (ii) form closure of the root with the substrate, (iii) chemical adhesion [glue], and (iv) shape changes of the root hairs and form-closure with the substrate [root hairs dry and scrunch into a spiral shape that locks them into place]. These four phases and their variations play an important role in the attachment to differently structured surfaces. We demonstrate that, in English ivy, different mechanisms work together to allow the plant’s attachment to various climbing substrates and reveal the importance of micro-fibril orientation in the root hairs for the attachment based on structural changes at the subcellular level.” (Melzer et al. 2010:1383)

Journal article
The attachment strategy of English ivy: a complex mechanism acting on several hierarchical levelsJournal of The Royal Society Interface, 7(50): 1383-1389September 6, 2010
Melzer B, Steinbrecher T, Seidel R, Kraft O, Schwaiger R, Speck T

Web page
English ivy's climbing secrets revealed by scientistsBBC Earth NewsMay 28, 2010
Bourton J

“Almost every element of plant anatomy, it seems, can be turned into some kind of climbing device. The cheese plant climbs with its roots, sending them out from its nodes, the places on its stem from which leaves normally spring, and wrapping them around the trunk of its host. European ivy sprouts roots all along the underside of its stems. They are so thin that they can cling to any tiny rugosity. Honeysuckle uses its own stem, winding it around the thicker stem of others. The glory lilies of tropical Africa and Asia have elongated the tips of their leaves into little mobile wires with which they hook themselves on to any support they can find.” (Attenborough 1995:161)

The Private Life of PlantsAugust 21, 1995
David Attenborough

Edit References

Learn More about the living system/s