Smitten with Smilax — or Not?


Vin Gemmetti (Class of 2019) had on his phone a photo of a vine that he wanted identified.  It is one of the twelve species of greenbrier (or catbrier) found in Florida and is shown above in a photo taken at Cypress Bend Community Preserve.

Greenbriers (except for one species) are thorny, thorny vines that grow from vigorous rhizomes and spread via subterranean runners.  New growth is somewhat succulent.  This soft growth is edilble and is said to taste like asparagus.

Greenbrier leaves are alternative and often very variable in shape, making identification a challenge …

Saw greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox), the species shown above, can be found growing in a variety of woodland habits including at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA). and is the easiest to identify.  It often, but not always, can be identified by the distinctive grey-green splotches on its leaves.  Often, but not always, you will find prickles (thorns) on the edges of its leaves.

We saw this (and other) species of greenbrier (pictured above) when we visited the Ansin Tract Conservation Area on 4-6-2019.  These fresh new leaves are very shiny and red-tinged along the edges.  Note the significant and sharp prickles that may not endear this plant to people.

A tangle of prickly greenbriers provide superb cover for birds, rabbits, and other small mammals.  Their fruits are eaten by birds, black bears, raccoons, and other mammals.   White- tailed deer, rabbits, and squirrels browse on the tender young stems and leaves, which are said to have a crude protein content that can be as high as 40%.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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