Smilax tamnoides (Bristly Greenbrier)
|Also known as:||Chinaroot|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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- Bristly Greenbrier plant ©Daniel L. Nickrent
- Bristly Greenbrier plant leafing out in spring
- stems are branching
- minute teeth around the leaf edge
Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Hennepin, Scott, Washington, and Winona counties. Photo by Daniel L. Nickrent used by permission via PhytoImages.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?