Hold onto your seat as we explore all the Smilaxes of Ohio to be able to identify this particular species!
Smilax - genus of greenbriar, catbriars, sasparilla (let's call the whole thing off).
It always amazes me when out of nowhere I see a 'new' plant on familiar trails. I'm sure it's been there all along, sometimes the eyes just seek the familiar and block out the unknown. On this sunny snowy day I found a short, kind of stubby gathering of green in the woods. Recently I became aware of the unique parallel veining in the smilax leaves, so noting that on this plant I did a happy dance (I tend to do that when identifying new species to me in the wild)! When arriving home to put a name to the plant I became overwhelmed, much like the goldenrods and asters, there's many many many different species - 20 native to north america, 300+ to the tropics & subtropics worldwide -oof!
Through the various species the shape, growth, flowers, and berries vary so significantly it's hard to believe they're related so (but then again we all have family members like that right?).
But for today, let's narrow down this seemingly evergreen variety shown here with its very bristly vine/stalk/stem.
USDA has 26 defined native Smilax species (check out the location maps here).
Out of those 26, 9 are marked as found in Ohio:
Smilax bona-nox saw greenbrier - prickly vine with smooth upper stems, triangular/ovate leaves, very prickly lower leaves
Smilax ecirrhata upright carrionflower - smooth herbaceous central stem growing 1 - 3' tall.
Smilax glauca cat greenbrier - Iiana (new term to me) meaning it is a woody plant with vine-like growth form (woody but can't support itself). Has a simple leaf blade with one leaf per node along the stem. No teeth on lobes. Bristly spine. (looking like a match) BUT leaves drop off in the winter.
Smilax herbacea smooth carrionflower - viny but smooth stem - cool clusters of green flowers that smell like carrion - pollinated mainly by flies - round clumps of round blue/purple fruits then grow.
Smilax illinoensis Illinois greenbrier - qualities are that of a possible hybridization of the upright carrion flower and the smooth carrion flower (still not the drones we are looking for (anyone else find these quips amusing? I do :) ))
Smilax lasioneura Blue Ridge carrionflower - Threatened species in Ohio - has tendrils where the other carrionflowers don't.
Smilax pulverulenta downy carrionflower - Endangered species in Ohio - absent prickles
Smilax rotundifolia roundleaf greenbrier - tendency to become quite weedy in the northeast (can create vines up to 20 ft) leaf shape and veining are correct but the vine has thorns instead of bristles.
Smilax tamnoides bristly greenbrier - Woody vine growing to 10 - 20 ft long. Ovate leaves with parallel veining. Stems covered in stiff bristles. ***We have our winner***
The Smilax genus is divided into two similar but separate groups - woody vines with thorns and herbaceous vines/shrubs with no spines.
The bristly greenbrier is a good example of the first group (woody vine with thorns). The various carrion flowers are good examples of the second (herbaceous with no thorns)
Totally unintentional having the winning species be the very last on the list but it makes for a good read through!
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.