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Word of the Week: Capreolate

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Capreolate [KAP-ree-uh-leyt] (noun): Describing plants that have tendrils. Tendrils are special string-like stems, shoots, leaves or petioles (leafstalks) used by climbing plants to hold onto other plants or objects such as fences or posts.

If you go for walks in High Park, you likely have passed wild capreolates such as the wild grape vine at some point. Or if you have a vegetable garden you might have seen those fine curly threads on your pea or cucumber plants. But those curly tendrils are not only beautiful, wondrous features of many climbers, they are actually a remarkable adaption. They allow plants to climb high up towards the sunlight without having to spend much energy on supportive tissue at all. Just think how much wood trees need to grow to get 30 feet up in the air! Equally remarkable is how tendrils work: the wild grape vine sends out its tendrils to find a host by touch! When the tendril comes in contact with another plant or object it twines around it and anchors itself to the host. This means that the touch stimulus interacts with the plant hormones to create directional growth. On top of that capreolates have the ability to distinguish between themselves and another plant – they do not curl around themselves.

Wild grape vines can cover large areas and shade out small trees and shrubs, creating small jungles with their tangled vegetation – but they rarely kill trees. Their grapes are delicious wildlife food for many birds and mammals and they provide great nesting and escape cover for birds.

Charles Darwin was so fascinated by plants with this adaptation that he wrote an entire book published in 1875 called “On the Movement and Habits of Climbing Plants”. Imagine tendrils as a plant’s invention to move! Unlike animals, plants usually don’t have to move to get food – they get it from the sun, the rain and the soil. But tendrils actually allow some plants to move to the sunlight in the midst of a thicket.

Keep an eye out for wild grape vine on your next visit to High Park!