Lianas are tropical woody plants that lack heavy supporting trunks and buttress roots typical of tropical trees. They are rooted in the ground and use trees as support to reach the light at upper levels of the canopy by "hitching a ride." When people talk of tropical "vines" they are often thinking of lianas. Most lianas are rope-like, perhaps growing to the thickness of your arm. Tarzan swings through the jungle on lianas. If he used vines, he would crash to the forest floor! (True vines are in a family of their own, but some authors group lianas with vines generally.) True vines are usually too flimsy to support the weight of a human. Lianas greatly add to the 'jungle ' atmosphere of tropical rainforest, often forming spaghetti-like masses of inextricable creepers. Few liana species have commercial value but ecologically, they are vital to maintaining the integrity of the rainforest ecosystem. They produce fruits and flowers upon which animals feed and provide a means for animals to travel between trees without having to come to ground. Well-known lianas include Monkey Ladder (see below) and Water Vine.
Click below for liana photos and natural history information:
"Their stems remain rooted in the ground and are oddly shaped, often being
flattened, lobed, coiled like a rope or spiraled in a helixlike shape."
John Kricher A Neotropical Companion 1997