Biomechanics and development of the climbing habit in two species of the South American palm genus Desmoncus (Arecaceae)

Document Type


Publication Date


Volume Number


Source Publication

American Journal of Botany


Mechanical properties are investigated in Desmoncus orthacanthos and D. polyacanthos from French Guiana, South America. Differences in size and axis stiffness are related to different trellis requirements and habitats. The leaf sheath surrounds the stem, increasing stiffness of young self-supporting stages and apical parts of older climbing plants. Senescence of the leaf sheath reduces stiffness of older climbing axes of both species. Its eventual loss in D. orthacanthos facilitates deformation into coils and loops when plants slip from their supports following senescence of leaves bearing attachment organs. In smaller climbing axes of D. polyacanthos, the senescent leaf sheath remains attached and axes rarely form loops and coils below attachment. An increase in stiff mechanical properties toward the base of both species is radically different from that of many dicotyledonous lianas. Besides the presence of attachment organs, stem mechanical properties of Desmoncus are similar to those of erect though not fully self-supporting stems of Bactris major, a sympatric species of the sister group genus to Desmoncus. The climbing habit in Desmoncus may have evolved via (1) heterochronic processes including early elongation of internodes relative to increase in stem diameter (reduction of the establishment phase) and (2) increased persistence of leaf sheaths.