Twining Vines

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Have you ever wondered how the vines in your yard manage to work their way up a pole or a tree? The question puzzled Darwin and remained a longstanding mystery – until it was solved in a paper published in Physical Review Letters earlier this month.

The answer is summarized in the latest edition of Physical Review Focus. I have to tell you though, I have a hard time following the article in my attempt to understand exactly how the model works.

There’s one thing I understand from the Focus story – the theory can tell you the largest diameter stick you should use to hold up vines in your garden. Specifically, if you measure the diameter of the curls that a vine’s tendril makes when it is not wrapped around a support, then you should make sure your supports are not more than 3.3 times larger than those curls in cross section. Otherwise, your twining peas will droop and your morning glories, will lie ungloriously on the ground.

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