Saw Greenbrier Vine — Smilax bona-nox

Saw Greenbrier Vine
Saw Greenbrier Vine (Smilax bona-nox)

Every year this vine comes up in my garden. And every year I tear it out of the ground. Again. And again. Up until this point I didn’t know what it was and I really didn’t care. I just wanted it to be gone, because it climbed over, around, under and through every other plant or object that happened to be in the near vicinity. It’s quite a tenacious plant, and I guess that tenacity is what made me finally decide to find out exactly what it is.

It turns out this plant is Smilax bona-nox, a vine in the Smilacaceae family. Some of its common names are saw greenbrier, cowvine and catbrier — I guess due to the prickles on the leaves and the thorns on the vine itself. It is a perennial vine which can reach a length of 20-30 feet and grows in areas of full sun to full shade. It blooms in late winter to early spring, forms a fruit of tiny black berries, is evergreen and can be considered noxious or invasive. Apparently most parts of the plant are edible. Mine have never been around long enough to form a flower, create a berry or be eaten!

After reading about this plant I’m wondering if I might be missing out on something by constantly pulling up the vines. According to Wikipedia:

“The fruits of this plant provide food for many species of animals, including many birds. The dense, prickly thickets make good cover for small animals.

Native Americans found several uses for the plant. The Muscogee people (also known as the Creek people) rubbed the moistened plant on their faces to enhance youthfulness, and the Comanche people used the leaves for cigarette wrappers. The Houma people of Louisiana used Smilax bona-nox roots to treat urinary tract infections and to make bread and cake.”

Hmmm. I like the fact that it provides food for wildlife. Anything that does that can’t be all bad. The “youthfulness” factor sounds promising, but I don’t think I want to rub my face with it. And I don’t smoke so I don’t guess I’ll be using the leaves for that! I’m also quite positive I don’t want to eat anything that might be known as a “cowvine cake”. On the other hand, Smilax bona-nox is a Texas native, which is a good thing. I guess. So, all that being said, I think maybe I’ll leave the vine in place this year and see what happens. I might be sorry later, but I’ll try any plant once!

Does anyone have anything positive to say about saw greenbrier?

Saw Greenbrier Vine
Saw Greenbrier Vine (Smilax bona-nox)

 

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25 thoughts on “Saw Greenbrier Vine — Smilax bona-nox

  1. You won’t hear anything positive about this plant from me. I’ve never seen it bloom though we have giant brier patches of it so I’ll look for the berries this spring. It would be nice if the deer ate it but they don’t so I have to pull it from the beds and always end up with scratches all over my legs and arms.

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    • I agree with Shirley. Cat Brier berries are black and ripe in the fall Birds poop them everywhere. I don’t want a huge vine with thorns that can puncture a tractor tire. Over time the roots form huge tubers — by huge I mean 12-15 inch knobby clumps of the things. As vines mature they climb to the tops of trees if left to grow. Vines have tough tendrils that will strangle growth on your shrubs. Shall I continue?

      Poison Ivy might be a better native substitute. Not only do birds love the berries but it has lovely red fall foliage and no thorns.The down side is that P.I. is not evergreen and causes a terrible rash…

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    • Ouch! I only have one of these plants and have used gloves whenever I’ve pulled it up, but I can imagine that a patch of them wouldn’t be any fun at all. Some of the articles I’ve read state that deer will eat the foliage, but I would think the thorns would be a deterrent. Thanks for letting me know what you think of the plant. I’ve seen many negative and a few positive mentions on the web and in books. I guess I’ll keep researching it before deciding whether to give it the boot again this year.

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    • Hi there! Thanks for visiting and thank you for following my blog. I found yours recently and am enjoying it. Your post about the rain today was nice. I love rain, I love listening to it, especially at night. So I guess I felt at peace last night with its steady noise on the roof!

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  2. The spines are really mean. But it is important for wildlife so I tolerate a small bit of it in a wild corner on our lot. I remember reading once that some kind of smilax is the original source for sarsaparilla — root beer flavouring.

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  3. I’ve seen that vine around and have to second Debra’s comment about its mean spines! I leave it (I think…) as it hasn’t spread or really bothered in any particular way and if it feeds something, well, more to like about it.

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  4. This vine is the devil for me. If I don’t catch it early, it will twine up in my rose bushes and make it impossible to remove. The thorns like to imbed in my gloves, shirt and arms. You are braver than me. I have a lot of other plants that provide wildlife with food. I missed some along a back portion of my garden one year and it multiplied in a most terrifying way. I’m gonna pass on this one–it scares me.

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  5. I have the vine growing here and there on one side of the drive in one quadrant of our beds. It does grow but not so rapidly I can’t get handle it. Like others I haven’t seen it bloom or berry but I’ll watch more closely now for certain. The deer don’t seem interested but there’s plenty of more tender choices which might explain it. I’m happy to know of at least the potential for this plant to be a bonus and not a drawback. Maybe it’s as much about our attitudes…

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    • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder? I think we all have plants we don’t like. My neighbor has a Trumpet Vine that’s as old as the hills. It’s grown onto and into and up to the top of the utility pole in their backyard, and at times into our fence. Every few years we had trouble with our land-line phone and the trouble always led back to this vine (one reason we got rid of the land-line). The roots also go everywhere and come up all over our yard. So I guess I really dislike that vine, though the flowers are beautiful, as much as most folks dislike the greenbrier.

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  6. I didn’t know what this was either. I decided to look it up when my neighbor said her husband gets a bad rash if he touches it. I’m really not sure if this can give you a rash or not. I spotted poison ivy near by in their yard and wonder if that is really was the source of his rash. His wife didn’t seem to think the poison ivy I pointed out was poison ivy. She brushed it off and said that it was harmless. Pointing out the poison ivy is what prompted her to point out the Greenbriar, which she was more afraid of. From what I read on hear with it being used for cigarette wrappers and a face rub, I think this vine is must be harmless. Has it given anyone else a rash? Or do you think my neighbor touched some poison ivy near by when he was pulling this vine out?

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    • What a tangled web of plants! From what I’ve read, the only injury this plant might inflect would be scratches from its thorns. Like you, I would guess your neighbor did come in contact with the (not!) poison ivy! 🙂 Of course, anyone can be allergic to anything, I guess. So who knows! I finally pulled my vine out again as it was beginning to grow into some other plants. I’m sure it’ll soon be back though!

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  7. I have been fighting this nuisance vine for years. I was shocked to learn just how many tubers a single vine can have. My husband dug up an entire wheel barrow FULL of giant sweet potato-looking tubers, from a single vine only a foot long. I suppose this may be because it came up in an area we usually mow, but WOW, we had to bring dirt in to fill the hole it left. I have a few of these vines currently intruding on my rhododendrons and ligustrums, and I suspect digging them up will cost us several good shrubs. I just keep snipping away. 😦 Don’t let them get out of control.

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    • I actually pulled mine out of the ground finally. It does keep coming back, but hasn’t emerged anywhere else. So I pull and snip. It’s in an area that would be difficult to dig in, so all I can really do is try to keep it cut to the ground. It’s strange that it’s the only one around. I hope you have some luck getting rid of the remainder of yours.

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