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  • Strategy

Roots attach firmly: English ivy


English Ivy / chery / LicensePD - Public Domain

Roots of English ivy can attach to nearly any surface using a multi-step attachment strategy involving glue and shape-changing root hairs.

"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)
"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)
About the inspiring organism
Med_hedera_helix_clinging Hedera helix
Hedera helix Lowe

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Attachment mechanisms that minimize or eliminate toxic glues. Fasteners, clips, snaps, slide fastener tapes.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Hardware, manufacturing, construction

Plant Biomechanics Group
Björn Melzer, Thomas Speck
Botanic Garden Uni-Freiburg
Melzer B; Steinbrecher T; Seidel R; Kraft O; Schwaiger R; Speck T. 2010. The attachment strategy of English ivy: a complex mechanism acting on several hierarchical levels. J R Soc Interface.
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Bourton J. 2010. English ivy's climbing secrets revealed by scientists. BBC Earth News [Internet],
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Attenborough, D. 1995. The Private Life of Plants: A Natural History of Plant Behavior. London: BBC Books. 320 p.
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over 6 years ago
Hi, the common name on picture 2 is I believe not correct. Gut reaction is that is of Parthenocissus tricuspidata / Boston Ivy see:
or for a brill pic of attachment:
Reason: here in England Hedera helix does not turn red in autumn & it is not the same leaf as in your pic 1. I even enlarged it from source's flicker page.
My qualification for opinion - ex horticulturist 40 years experience.
hope that helps, with kind regards, Spencer.
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