Journal Article

Developmental plasticity and biomechanics of treelets and lianas in <i>Manihot</i> aff. <i>quinquepartita</i> (Euphorbiaceae): a branch-angle climber of French Guiana

Léa Ménard, Doyle McKey and Nick Rowe

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 103, issue 8, pages 1249-1259
Published in print June 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Developmental plasticity and biomechanics of treelets and lianas in Manihot aff. quinquepartita (Euphorbiaceae): a branch-angle climber of French Guiana

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Most tropical lianas have specialized organs of attachment such as twining stems, hooks or tendrils but some do not. Many climbers also have an early self-supporting phase of growth and in some species this can produce treelet-sized individuals. This study focuses on how a liana can climb without specialized attachment organs and how biomechanical properties of the stem are modulated between self-supporting treelets and canopy-climbing lianas.


Biomechanics and stem development were investigated in self-supporting to climbing individuals of Manihot aff. quinquepartita (Euphorbiaceae) from tropical rain forest at Saül, central French Guiana. Bending tests were carried out close to the site of growth. Mechanical properties, including Young's elastic modulus, were observed with reference to habit type and changes in stem anatomy during development.

Key Results

This liana species can show a remarkably long phase of self-supporting growth as treelets with stiff, juvenile wood characterizing the branches and main stem. During the early phase of climbing, stiff but unstable stem segments are loosely held in a vertical position to host plants via petiole bases. The stiffest stems – those having the highest values of Young's modulus measured in bending – belonged to young, leaning and climbing stems. Only when climbing stems are securely anchored into the surrounding vegetation by a system of wide-angled branches, does the plant develop highly flexible stem properties. As in many specialized lianas, the change in stiffness is linked to the development of wood with numerous large vessels and thin-walled fibres.


Some angiosperms can develop highly effective climbing behaviour and specialized flexible stems without highly specialized organs of attachment. This is linked to a high degree of developmental plasticity in early stages of growth. Young individuals in either open or closed marginal forest conditions can grow as substantial treelets or as leaning/climbing plants, depending on the availability of host supports. The species of liana studied differs both in terms of development and biomechanics from many other lianas that climb via twining, tendrils or other specialized attachment organs.

Keywords: Biomechanics; bending; developmental plasticity; French Guiana; liana; Manihot aff. quinquepartita (Euphorbiaceae); treelet; branch angle climber; Young's modulus

Journal Article.  6766 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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