Smilax tamnoides (Bristly Greenbrier)

Plant Info
Also known as: Chinaroot
Genus:Smilax
Family:Smilacaceae (Catbrier)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; deciduous woods, thickets, floodplains, wooded slopes, bluffs, stream and river banks
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:10 to 30 foot vine
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 6-petals Cluster type: round

[photo of male flowers] Numerous loose, hemispheric flower clusters 1 to 2 inches across, each on a long stalk and containing up to 25 flowers, with male and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious). Flowers are about ¼ inch across with 6 green to yellow-green tepals (petals and similar sepals). Male flowers have 6 creamy white to pale yellow-tipped stamens.

[photo of female flower clusters] Female flowers have a green, round ovary with a 3-parted style at the tip. Both male and female clusters arise singly from the leaf axils on this year's new branchlets, with or before the leaves. A flower stalk is longer than the associated leaf stalk and is initially erect but often becomes drooping.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are alternate, 2 to 6+ inches long, 1 to 5 inches wide, mostly egg-shaped, rounded to pointed at the tip, rounded to heart-shaped at the base, on a stalk up to ¾ inch long. The upper surface is hairless, the lower hairless though may have a few prickles along major veins. Edges are minutely toothed, especially near the base. Leaves along most of the stem typically have a pair of long tendrils at the base of the stalk; these tendrils twine around supporting vegetation and enable the plant to climb.

[photo of stem prickles] New branches are green, turning brown with age, and variably covered in dark brown to blackish prickles of varying sizes. Lower stems are usually densely prickly while upper stems are more sparsely so, or sometimes smooth. Stems are branched, erect to ascending, or more sprawling when supporting vegetation is not available, single or multiple from the woody base. Plants may form colonies from short, knotty rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a round berry 1/3 inch or so in diameter that ripens from green to black.

Notes:

Of the 4 Smilax species known to be in Minnesota, Bristly Greenbrier is the easiest to identify since it is the only one with a prickly stem, though prickles may be few on the upper stem. There is some debate over whether this species should be named S. tamnoides or S. hispida, and while the consensus seems to be moving towards S. hispida, S. tamnoides is the currently accepted name in Minnesota.

Please visit our sponsors

  • Minnesota Native Plant Society

Where to buy native seed and plants ↓

Map of native plant purveyors in the upper midwest

  • Shop for native seeds and plants at PrairieMoon.com!
  • Shooting Star Native Seeds - Native Prairie Grass and Wildflower Seeds
  • Morning Sky Greenery - Native Prairie Plants
  • Minnesota Native Landscapes - Your Ecological Problem Solvers
  • Natural Shore Technologies - Using science to improve land and water

More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Hennepin, Scott, Washington, and Winona counties. Photo by Daniel L. Nickrent used by permission via PhytoImages.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Pamela Budge - Bloomington, mn
on: 2019-06-17 06:50:07

Found at Normandale lake park climbing buckthorn. Almost tropical looking. So happy that it's native, which likely means it won't strangle the buckthorn, but a body can hope.

Posted by: LouAnne Machacek - Northfield
on: 2019-09-13 15:31:26

Found only one vine in my shrub bed. Had tornadoes last fall. Who knows where it blew in from.

Posted by: Craig Lenz - HUTCHINSON
on: 2019-11-11 14:40:30

There is quite a bit of around Cedar Lake in McLoed Co. Also glad to hear it is not invasive.

Posted by: Ethan Jordan - Breezy point
on: 2019-12-04 17:34:24

Found in Breezy Point in Crow Wing County, which is several counties out of its projected range. Was found without thorns.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-12-04 18:27:28

Ethan, if it has no prickles then it is either one of the other Smilax species or something else altogether.

Posted by: kat - ramsey, mn
on: 2020-04-18 18:39:54

are fruits edible? My plant has bright green stems coming out of ground covered in brown bristles?

Posted by: Susan Premo - All over
on: 2020-10-15 21:28:19

I first saw this vine at Ft. Snelling, under the Mendota bridge. I kept calling it by the wrong name, but I thought it rather fitting, I called it goliath. It's a mean looking plant. Now I see it all over southeastern, here, st. Paul & northern Minnesota.

Post a comment

Note: All comments are moderated before posting to keep the riff-raff out. An email address is required, but will not be posted—it will only be used for information exchange between the 2 of us (if needed) and will never be given to a 3rd party without your express permission.

For info on subjects other than plant identification (gardening, invasive species control, edible plants, etc.), please check the links and invasive species pages for additional resources.



(required)




Note: Comments or information about plants outside of Minnesota and neighboring states may not be posted because Id like to keep the focus of this web site centered on Minnesota. Thanks for your understanding.