IUCN threat status:

Not evaluated

Comprehensive Description

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This native woody vine is up to 10-20' long; it climbs over adjacent shrubs or the lower branches of trees using tendrils. The woody stems are mostly green and round; lower stems are heavily armed with stout straight spines and stiff bristles, while upper stems have few, if any, spines. These spines and bristles become dark brown or black with age. The alternate leaves are up to 5" long and 4" across; they are oval to broadly ovate, smooth along the margins, and hairless. Their margins may have minute teeth, but this is easier to see with a 10x hand lens. Each leaf has 3-7 parallel veins; its upper surface is green, while the lower surface is light green (but not glaucous). At the base of each leaf, there is a slender petiole and a pair of curly tendrils. These tendrils are initially green, but they later become rather stiff and brown. Occasionally, individual umbels of flowers will be produced from the axils of the upper leaves. The peduncles (stalks) of these umbels are longer than the petioles of the leaves. Each umbel has 8-30 flowers and spans about 2-3" across. Because Smilax spp. are dioecious, a vine will produce either all staminate flowers or all pistillate flowers; perfect flowers are rarely produced. Each staminate (male) flower is about ¼" across; it consists of 6 yellowish or greyish green tepals and 6 stamens. Each pistillate (female) flower is about ¼" across; it consists of 6 yellowish or greyish green tepals, a single ovary, and a short tripartite style. The ovary is ovoid, shiny, and green. The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer and lasts about 2 weeks. There is no noticeable floral scent. The staminate flowers quickly wither away after blooming. The pistillate flowers develop into fleshy berries. Each berry is about ¼" across, dark blue or black, and contains 1-3 seeds. The leaves are deciduous and fall to the ground during the fall. The root system has short stout rhizomes. This woody vine spreads vegetatively by rhizomes or by reseeding itself. Cultivation


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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