Why Do Your Cucumber Plants Have Tendrils?

Cucumbers are fascinating plants, as there is much to learn about them. If you’ve taken a closer look at its vines, you’ll notice that they have a spring-like structure that they use to hold onto surfaces. Known as tendrils, they play an essential role in helping these plants survive and thrive.

Cucumber plants use tendrils to pull themselves toward sunlight. As it is a vine, it uses its tendrils to take support from the surrounding environment, like trees and trellises. It is strong enough to withstand movement and flexible to prevent breakage.  

How tendril plants work was fascinating enough to catch the attention of Charles Darwin and feature in his book, On the Movements and Habits of Climbing Plants. In this article, I will explore what tendrils are and what they do for cucumber plants.

The Role of Tendrils in Climbing Plants

Let’s understand what tendrils are in the first place. You will find these specialized parts on climbing plants like cucumbers, grapes, watermelons, and passion flowers.

Support and Movement

For one, tendrils provide plant movement. With tendrils, the flora can find structures to hold onto, generally trees, and use them as support. With solid structures as their foundation, they can pull themselves towards it.

Access to Sunlight

The major benefit of moving towards the support structure is that they can reach places so that the climbing plants receive more sunlight. 

Resource Competition

When climbing plants grow in environments with high competition for resources, they need all the help they can get. With this specialized part, they can now access resources not available earlier. 

Resource Conservation

Tendrils require fewer resources than trunks and branches. Plants with tendrils don’t need to focus on creating branches and trunks, which is not easy for flora.

The tendril system also has a downside—they need to rely on other flora and solid structures for support.

How Cucumber Plants Utilize Tendrils

As highlighted earlier in this article, tendrils have an essential role in cucumber plant growth.

These benefits include the following:

  • Better access to sunlight: For example, if a cucumber plant is grown below a canopy of trees, the tendrils help it climb the trees. Over time, it will reach a height where it can get direct sunlight, which will help increase plant growth. 
  • Provide a level of rigidity to the cucumber plant.: It is flexible enough to withstand small movements, like light wind or the touch of an animal. This flexibility ensures the tendril isn’t too rigid and can move around as necessary.
  • Durable enough to prevent breakages due to stronger winds: This durability also protects the plant from physical damage from animals.

What Cucumber Tendrils Look Like

Tendrils are the thin green threads from your cucumber plant that coil around nearby support structures like little lassos.

When you look at the tendrils of a cucumber plant, you’ll notice it has a distinct shape. However, it didn’t start this way, as tendrils are straight initially.

After it finds something that can act as its support, that’s when it changes shape. It forms two helixes—left and right-sided.

A helix is a spiral shape, like DNA or a spring. Towards the center of the tendril is a perversion—or the point at which the contour changes direction.

When the tendril is straight and trying to latch onto a surface, it behaves like a cowboy’s lasso, albeit in slow motion. It tries to go around the structure to get a better grip.

Here’s a video to watch to see how the cucumber tendrils get support from a nearby structure:

Tendril Structure and Movement

A closer look at the tendrils from a microscopic level explains precisely why the tendrils become more robust when you pull rather than becoming a straight line. 

As tendrils are specialized stems, it contains gelatinous fiber (g-fiber) cells, which look like threads. This fibrous material is responsible for the flexibility and durability of tendrils.

Here’s a thing to try at home—hold any object nearby. If you pay attention to your body, you’ll notice that you use your muscles for this action.

However, cucumbers or any other climbing plants don’t have muscles. Instead, they use the g-fiber cells.

What do these cells do?

Well, they either extend or contract, which benefits the plants. For instance, when they contract, the tendrils curve and coil around the support structure. 

With support, the cucumber plant can start pulling toward the structure. As shown earlier, the helix should become flat as the plant pulls itself from one or both ends. However, this doesn’t happen on the cucumber plant.

The plant is unique because of what goes on inside the cells of the tendril. On one side, the g-fiber loses some of its moisture, while on the other end, this doesn’t happen.

As a result, the contraction in these cells and tendrils is uneven or asymmetric. This asymmetry is why when the tendrils get pulled, they form more loops and become tighter.

Let’s go back to the example of how the tendrils are both flexible and durable. When there is light wind, these specialized parts go with the wind. In other words, it doesn’t resist and goes with the flow. 

However, when the wind picks up strength, the tendrils become rigid. This movement helps stabilize the plant and prevent it from getting damaged due to the forces of nature. 

To understand how tendrils work—imagine a spring. At first, it is soft, and as more pressure gets applied, there is an increase in stiffness.

This action makes it harder for the helix shapes to change, preventing them from becoming flat. Instead, it starts to make more coils. 

Variations in Tendril Behavior

Tendrils tend to behave differently depending on the strength of the force applied on both ends—likely the case for most specialized parts.

However, there is a slight difference in young and old tendrils, which you should consider:

New Tendrils 

The newer tendrils contain more moisture than the older ones. Because of the moisture, it doesn’t overwind or become more rigid.

This higher moisture content means the tendrils can bend easily but don’t twist or coil as much. When the plant faces light winds or forces, it can move in the same direction without snapping.

Old Tendrils

Older tendrils don’t have as much moisture or are drier than the newer ones on the cucumber plant. This lack of water makes the tendrils stiff as it is easier to coil or twist.

Due to the nature of older tendrils, they are durable against stronger winds and forces. 

Caring for Tendrils During Harvest

Although tendrils provide the cucumber plant with much-needed support—you can easily damage these vital structures. Be careful while harvesting cucumbers from the plant. Although the tendrils provide support and can withstand strong winds, they can still break if you apply too much force.

When harvesting your cucumbers, you should consider the following tips:

Avoid Tugging

The tendril can snap if you pull the cucumber from the plant when harvesting. This method will result in the plant falling, as it can no longer hold itself up. 

Focus on Cutting Stems

Always focus on cutting the stems, as this is much safer than plucking cucumbers. It ensures that the vines remain unharmed while leaving a clean cut behind.

Final Thoughts

The tendrils on cucumber plants are incredible because of all they do for climbing plants, despite looking like it can’t do much. With these specialized parts, they can reach areas to access a larger pool of resources. At the same time, it also provides much-needed support for the plant.

Tendrils tend to be flexible and rigid, preventing the vines from getting damaged by strong winds. Thanks to these cells and how they behave, you can get the cucumber plant to grow in any direction you want with the help of poles and trellises.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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