Climbing plants belong to one the most diverse and yet understudied group of plants on Earth. There are thousands of species of climbing plants that belong to hundreds of different plant families. Climbers can be found in tropical and temperate forests around the world; the vast majority of climbers, however, are found in the tropics. In fact, the abundance of lianas is a key difference between temperate and tropical forests.
The ecology of climbing plants captured the attention of the early explorer-scientists over the past two centuries. Even Darwin was fascinated by this diverse group plants, and in 1865 he wrote what perhaps became his second most famous book: “On the movements and habits of climbing plants”. Darwin (and others) recognized the unique strategy of climbing plants; these plants avoid building a large trunk, but instead use the trunks of neighboring trees to reach the forest canopy. This strategy allows climbing plants to invest more energy toward acquiring resources and reproducing rather than towards building a bulky trunk. Once in the forest canopy, climbing plants produce prodigious amounts of leaves and flowers, often smothering their host tree.