creeper with twisty tendrils

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist


The first coiled spring

The first coiled spring?

 R. Tradwell invented the first ever coiled spring in 1763, but nature had been creating these twisty tendrils long before that.  

I found this wonderful example of nature’s engineering at the edge of a golf course near Lisbon.

creeper with twisty tendrils

creeper with twisty tendrils

The way these tendrils twist is really fascinating and so clever. You might think that the straight bits in the spring are just mistakes, but in fact they are essential to prevent the whole plant being twisted round.  When a climbing plant, such as a cucumber or passion flower starts to grow, it sends out tendrils which start off just waving about in a circular manner. These tendrils will eventually hit something solid and attach themselves to it.  The next step is to pull the plant up vertically and this happens because the tendril is able to shorten itself by coiling round and round. The clever bit is that the tendril coils in different directions from each end and so neither the plant nor the support are rotated. This leads to those straight bits in the middle of the springs, which, by the way are known as perversions. (I know how some of you love new words!)

In 2012 a group of scientists at Harvard University did some research trying to understand the processes involved in spiralling cucumber tendrils. They discovered an amazing fact: when you pulled each end of a twisted tendril it did not unwind as a normal spring would, but rather coiled even more.  They were able to look at the cells inside the tendril and explain how this worked. Even better they were then able to reproduce this behaviour using a stiff fabric and copper wire and have now applied for a patent for their design for a ‘twistless spring’.

Isn’t nature wonderful!

You can read more on this on The Guardian’s post.

This was posted the Weekly photo challenge: Twist

6 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

  1. The things you know! Isn’ t Nature wonderful?
    And did you know that the Chinese Wisteria spirals clockwise as it climbs and the Japanese Wisteria spirals anti- clockwise? Obviously it doesn’t coil like your coily things but it spirals.

    • You have to wonder how on earth a plant learnt to do that, though It is incredible even if it had a very long time to develop it. Yes, many of the best inventions are really just pinched from nature – but it is often seeing the application that is the clever thing.

  2. Fascinating post Annette, thank you.
    It makes me laugh that every year I forget which way runner beans spiral (when I’m trying to give them a helping hand), but they always remember!

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