Climbing plants use other plants or rocks and manmade structures for support. Released from the function of holding up the plant shoots, the stems possess little or no ability to bear any weight (compression), but instead they are very flexible and have considerable tensile strength, meaning that stems have evolved characteristics to resist pulling and twisting.

A vine, in the narrowest definition, is an herbaceous, relatively thin-stemmed climber that mainly colonizes either disturbed or high-light habitats. Many examples of herbaceous vines are found in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae) and members of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Some vines are even chlorophyll-lacking parasites, depending on the host plant for its nutrition as well as support, i.e., species of Cassytha and dodder (Cuscuta spp.). There are also some fleshy and succulent forms, which most authors would classify as vines, such as the Austalian milkweed Sarcostemma australe and a Chilean species.

A liana or liane is a woody climber that generally has roots in woodland or forest floor but its leaves often in full sun, blanketing canopies of trees, often many meters from the ground. Lianas are especially abundant in wet tropical forests, where the flexible woody stems assume many interesting hanging forms (Examples: a tangle, braided, and looping cables). But in the wet tropics, species may also be wrapped tightly around tree limbs, appearing to constrict the host. Vines and lianas are extremely common in seasonally dry short-tree tropical forests (Example: unknown liana entwining a lower branch). Nonetheless, there are several fairly common lianas in temperate deciduous forests of North America, such as grapes (Vitis), poison-ivy and poison-oak (Toxicodendron), and greenbriar (Smilax).

In addition to true vines and lianas, there are many scandent plants, such as raspberries (Rubus), which have arching or spreading branches that rest on other plants for support. Climbers also can include secondary hemiepiphytes, plants that begin life rooted in soil, growing as a vine along a tree trunk, and later as an epiphyte with no attachment to the soil. Thus, there is a graded series from self-supporting shrubs with lax branches to vines and lianas that cannot support upright shoots and depend entirely on other means of support.

Vines and lianas are commonly used for landscaping as sprawling, low-care ground covers or plants to hide walls and create outdoor enclosures. Many climbing plants have beautiful flowers and can be covered with flowers when healthy and in full sun, but may flower little or not at all in shade.

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