Greenbriar

Smilax spp.
Family: Smilacaceae

Natural History
Fruits and leaves of bamboo vine (Smilax laurifolia)
Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org

The common names of "greenbriar," "catbriar," or "briar" all refer to a number of closely-related species in the genus Smilax. All are vines and most are very capable climbers, able to grow up trees using some combination of tendrils and thorns. These vines propagate via runners and seeds and may invade an area very quickly.

Greenbriar provides wildlife with both food and protective cover and serves as an important component in the diets of ruffed grouse, deer, and black bear.

Greenbriars are found in most of the eastern United States, from the Great Lakes states and southern New England, south into Florida. They grow as far west as Texas, Illinois, and Oklahoma. Here in Florida there are about a dozen species of Smilax found growing wild. Some of the more common ones include earleaf greenbriar (Smilax auriculata), saw greenbriar (Smilax bona-nox), cat greenbriar (Smilax glauca), and everglades greenbriar (Smilax havanensis). The roots from some species of Smilax have been used in the past to make a soft drink called "sarsaparilla."


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Greenbriar grows prolifically in a wide variety of habitats from dry, uplands to moist lowlands. It is especially common in wooded areas.
Size/Form: Greenbriar is a woody, climbing vine, often with conspicuous tendrils and stout, thorny stems.
Leaves: The leaves may be of various shapes, but are often ovate, elliptical, or shaped like a fiddle or arrowhead with distinct lobes at the leaf base. They are simple, alternately arranged, and evergreen or deciduous. Leaves are glossy green and smooth above, paler below, and grow from 2" to 5" long and ½" to 4" wide. The leaf margins are usually entire but may have some prickles along edges and on the underside of the midrib.
Flowers: The flowers are small, greenish-white clusters or umbels that bloom in the spring.
Fruit: Greenbriar produces clusters of shiny, black berries in late summer or fall.

 

Images

Click on any thumbnail to see a photo. Use left and right arrows to navigate. Use "esc" to exit the lightbox.

 

Learn More