The Secret of Tendrils

Samantha Memi

  • 550 BCE Thales postulated that the honeysuckle tendril which plucked the apple for Eve when she was unable to reach high enough did more to change the history of humanity than any other plant.


  • 360 Marcellinus relates evidence that a gloriosa in the boudoir of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra strangled its mistress in order to save her from being taken to Rome as a slave. How the tendril knew of this danger caused Ammianus to surmise that not only was the plant murderous, but also clairvoyant.


  • 1664 Pepys, in unedited pages of his diary, tells the tale of a grapevine in Farynor’s bakery which was so angered at being left unwatered that it curled a tendril around a lighted candle and threw it onto the straw on the ground, thus causing the Great Fire of London, and of course its own demise.


  • 1894 There is evidence to suggest that the Martian attack which took place in Leatherhead, England, was greatly enfeebled by vine tendrils attacking the legs of the Martian machines. Recorded by HG Wells in The War of the Worlds, the part played by tendrils was removed from the final version of the book.


  • Perhaps the most artistic plants in the history of civilisation are the tendrils which painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling. There has always been controversy about why Michelangelo had a multitude of passionflowers and jasmines with him on the platform as he worked. It is now thought these plants were trained in his technique, and that in fact he did very little painting, leaving much of the work to vine tendrils while he enjoyed the glory. This startling revelation came about when a conservator, working on the latest restoration, realised that many areas of the fresco were too crudely painted to be from the hand of the master and that, as the only companions enjoyed by Michelangelo were potted passionflowers and jasmines, came to the conclusion that the tendril plants must have been instrumental in much of this work. Professor Mazzoni of Padua University explained, “Tendrils have a distinct painting technique which involves scrolls, whorls, twists and much foliate imagery. This style is prevalent in many areas of the painting.” Tests with groups of ivy and grapevine have shown that tendrils are capable, not only of painting, but composing music and solving complex mathematical problems as well. The plants found to be most proficient in fresco work were jasmine and passionflower, which seems to show that Michelangelo was cognizant of the their creative abilities when he chose them as his assistants. Some mature plants were able to grasp miniature chisels and mallets and sculpt tiny statues of David. Professor Mazzoni believes more research into tendril behaviour will help our understanding of the world, and how the creative instinct is an integral part of nature.


  • France. At the Conservatoire de Boulogne, a combination of snapdragon, jasmine and grape ivy have been recorded playing Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 on original instruments. The director explained that at present the vines are unable to play woodwind. Some have attempted bagpipes but this is obviously not an instrument favoured by plants.


  • Russia. Documents purported to be from the Russian space programme tell of a clematis which took over the controls of a Soyuz when the commander and all the crew mysteriously fell ill and collapsed. Roscosmos has denied the events took place.


  • Italy. While preparing sautéed pea tendrils at the Trattoria Rosina in Florence a chef had his hand pulled into hot fat by a tendril intent on revenge. The restaurant has subsequently removed the dish from its menu.


  • USA. Apple has abandoned attempts to train Virginia creepers to work on production lines. A spokesperson explained that the plants became bored after 3 or 4 hours. There was no comment on reports that similar tests with sea anemone fronds will be attempted. The facility has been the subject of protests by botanical rights groups.
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