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A roundleaf smilax sprawling on the ground amid pine needles. Note that it has few tendrils to assist in climbing and small sharp prickles along the stem.

Jane Weber Main

Jane Weber


After learning about Smilax vines in general, the following brief descriptions of Florida’s nine perennial smilax vines may be useful to homeowners.

1. Earleaf greenbrier (Smilax auriculata) is evergreen with dull-green, leathery leaves having revolute edge margins. Old leaf petiole stems may be reddish. Scattered prickles may have black tips and stems are without minute scales (not scurfy). Flowers are dioecious (male or female), green-to-yellowish, 5 millimeters long and bloom in spring in north Florida but year-round in south Florida. Shiny, glaucous half-inch red fruits turn black when ripe. It ranges throughout Florida from coastal dunes to deep, sandy soils of upland ecosystems. Earleaf Smilax is Florida’s most common smilax in well-drained disturbed sites, but less common in wetter marshes, savannahs or flatwoods.

2. Saw greenbrier (S. bona-nox) is semi-evergreen with thick, stiff, variable-shaped leaves — sometimes with three lobes — with scurfy prickles and minute scales on stems. Leaf margins and underside veins may have prickles. Shiny, green upper leaf surface is commonly variegated with gray or pale green blotches. Stems can climb very high throughout Florida. Flowers are white. Berries, 6 to 8 millimeters in diameter, are black when ripe in the fall and have a single reddish seed.

3. Cat greenbrier (S. glauca) is semi-evergreen with glaucous lower leaf surfaces and stems. From spring to fall, flowers are yellowish-brown. Shiny, blue-black berries are persistent (stay on the vine) offering wildlife food in winter. Glaucus Smilax ranges from central Florida northward in woodlands.

4. Laurel greenbrier (S. laurifolia) is evergreen, with lance-shaped to oblong leaves held vertical or horizontal, not drooping. Leaves have a submarginal vein. It climbs high and forms mats of tangled vines. Thick underground rhizomes are reddish. From late spring through summer, greenish-white flowers develop 5 to 8 millimeter round, shiny black berries. Throughout Florida, Laurel Smilax grows in wet bottomlands that are seasonally flooded.

5. Sarsaparilla vine (S. pumila) is an evergreen with shaggy pubescent lower leaf surfaces, petioles and stems. The thin, tan-colored, hairy, thornless stems often trail on the ground but can climb low onto shrubs and trees. Dark green, oblong to ovate leaves and their petioles are pubescent, gray on the undersides and lack prickles. Flowers bloom between spring and fall followed by persistent single-seeded red berries with a tapered apex end. It ranges from central to north Florida in bottomlands, wet or dry woodlands, maritime forests and scrub habitats.

6. Roundleaf greenbrier (S. rotundifolia) is semi-evergreen with predominantly round to cordate 2 inch long leaves. It may have prickles on some leaf margins. Petioles are reddish with soft teeth or wings that may be toothed. Prickles with brown to reddish tips grow at the stem internodes and hairy stems can climb high into trees. Small flowers, green to bronze, develop glaucous, blue-black berries in fall that have one to three seeds. It grows in north Florida in damp woodlands and on the edges of forest lakes and ponds.

7. Lanceleaf greenbrier (S. smallii) is evergreen. It can climb high with glabrous, prickly stems, up to 2 centimeters thick. Thin, lanceolate leaves have no submarginal vein, are shiny dark-green and either droop downwards or are horizontal. Leaf margins are entire, not toothed. Greenish-yellow flowers appear in summer. Berries are reddish but blacken at maturity. It ranges from central to north Florida in rich, well-drained sites that do not flood, such as forests, woodlands, hammocks and fence rows.

8. Bristly greenbrier (S. tamnoides) is semi-evergreen with distinct, needle-like prickles that are shiny, black to brown in color and up to 1 centimeter long on the stems. Green leaves with entire margins vary from ovate, orbiculate, almost round to fiddle-shaped. Spring flowers develop black berries in fall that have one to two seeds. It ranges from south-central Florida northward in dry uplands and moister mesic woodlands and other ecosystems. It often grows with S. glauca and S. bona-nox.

9. Coral greenbrier (S. walterii) is deciduous with reddish petioles without teeth. Stems may form mats and climb up to 20 feet high. Slender stems have few sharp prickles with none at the nodes. Leaves are mostly fiddle-shaped with pointed tips, but vary from hastate, orbicular and ovate to sub-rotund. The undersides are paler green than the top surface. Dioecious spring flowers produce persistent round berries that turn red when ripe. Walter’s Smilax grows in bottomlands with standing water in central and north Florida.

Jane Weber is a professional gardener and consultant. Semi-retired, she grows thousands of native plants. Contact her at jweber12385@gmail.com or phone 352-249-6899.