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For another plant sometimes called smilax, see Asparagus asparagoides.
Smilax aspera.jpg
Mediterranean smilax (Smilax aspera) in fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Smilacaceae
Genus: Smilax

Some 300–350, see text

  • Nemexia Raf.
  • Parillax Raf.
  • Aniketon Raf.
  • Dilax Raf.
  • Coprosmanthus Kunth
  • Pleiosmilax Seem.
  • Sarsaparilla Kuntze

Smilax is a genus of about 300–350 species, found in temperate zones, tropics and subtropics worldwide.[1] In China for example about 80 are found (39 of which are endemic),[2] while there are 20 in North America north of Mexico.[3][4] They are climbing flowering plants, many of which are woody and/or thorny, in the monocotyledon family Smilacaceae, native throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. Common names include catbriers, greenbriers, prickly-ivys and smilaxes. "Sarsaparilla" (also zarzaparrilla, sarsparilla) is a name used specifically for the Jamaican S. regelii as well as a catch-all term in particular for American species. Occasionally, the non-woody species such as the smooth herbaceous greenbrier (S. herbacea) are separated as genus Nemexia; they are commonly known by the rather ambiguous name "carrion flowers".

Greenbriers get their scientific name from the Greek myth of Crocus and the nymph Smilax.[5] Though this myth has numerous forms, it always centers around the unfulfilled and tragic love of a mortal man who is turned into a flower, and a woodland nymph who is transformed into a brambly vine.

Description and ecology

File:Greenbrier leaf.JPG
A typical Smilax sp. leaf

On their own, Smilax plants will grow as shrubs, forming dense impenetrable thickets. They will also grow over trees and other plants up to 10 m high, their hooked thorns allowing them to hang onto and scramble over branches. The genus includes both deciduous and evergreen species. The leaves are heart-shaped and vary from 4–30 cm long in different species.

Greenbrier is dioecious. However, only about one in three colonies have plants of both sexes. Plants flower in May and June with white/green clustered flowers. If pollination occurs, the plant will produce a bright red to blue-black spherical berry fruit about 5–10 mm in diameter that matures in the fall.

The berry is rubbery in texture and has a large, spherical seed in the center. The fruit stays intact through winter, when birds and other animals eat them to survive. The seeds are passed unharmed in the animal's droppings. Since many Smilax colonies are single clones that have spread by rhizomes, both sexes may not be present at a site, in which case no fruit is formed.

Smilax is a very damage-tolerant plant capable of growing back from its rhizomes after being cut down or burned down by fire. This, coupled with the fact that birds and other small animals spread the seeds over large areas, makes the plants very hard to get rid of. It grows best in moist woodlands with a soil pH between 5 and 6. The seeds have the greatest chance of germinating after being exposed to a freeze.

Blue admiral (Kaniska canace) caterpillar on China smilax (S. china)

Besides their berries providing an important food for birds and other animals during the winter, greenbrier plants also provide shelter for many other animals. The thorny thickets can effectively protect small animals from larger predators who cannot enter the prickly tangle. Deer and other herbivorous mammals will eat the foliage, as will some invertebrates such as Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), which also often drink nectar from the flowers.

Among the Lepidoptera utilizing Smilax are Hesperiidae like the water snow flat (Tagiades litigiosa), Pieridae like the small grass yellow (Eurema smilax)[verification needed], or moths like the peculiar and sometimes flightless genus Thyrocopa. But particularly fond of greenbriers are certain Nymphalidae caterpillars, for example those of:


American sarsaparilla (S. aristolochiifolia) from Köhler's Medicinal Plants

An extract from the roots of some species – most significantly Jamaican sarsaparilla (S. regelii) – is used to make the sarsaparilla drink and other root beers, as well as herbal drinks like the popular Baba Roots from Jamaica. Two species, S. domingensis and S. havanensis, are used in a traditional soda-like Cuban beverage called pru.[6] The roots may also be used in soups or stews. The young shoots can be eaten raw or cooked and are said to taste like asparagus, and the berries can be eaten both raw and cooked. Stuffed smilax pancake, or fúlíng jiābǐng (simplified Chinese: 茯苓夹饼; traditional Chinese: 茯苓夾餅), is a traditional snack from the Beijing region. S. glabra is used in Chinese herbology. It is also a key ingredient in the Chinese medical dessert guīlínggāo, which makes use of its property to set certain kinds of jelly.

The powdered roots of Jamaican Sarsaparilla are known as Rad. Sarzae. Jam. in pharmacy and are used as a traditional medicine for gout in Latin American countries. Köhler's Medicinal Plants of 1887 discusses the American sarsaparilla (S. aristolochiifolia), but as early as about 1569, in his treatise devoted to syphilis, the Persian scholar Imad al-Din Mahmud ibn Mas‘ud Shirazi gave a detailed evaluation of the medical properties of chinaroot.[7]

Diosgenin, a steroidal sapogenin, is reported from S. menispermoidea.[citation needed] Other active compounds reported from various greenbrier species are parillin (also sarsaparillin or smilacin), sarsapic acid, sarsapogenin and sarsaponin.[citation needed]

Due to the nectar-rich flowers, species like S. medica and S. officinalis are also useful honey plants.

The common floral decoration smilax is Asparagus asparagoides.[8][9] For example, in the stage version of Harvey, the opening scene describes the home as being "festooned with smilax".


The genus is divided into a number of sections. Section Smilax includes "woody",[note 1] prickly vines of temperate North America, for example cat greenbrier (S. glauca) and common greenbrier (S. rotundifolia).[10] Section Nemexia includes unarmed herbaceous plants of temperate North America, for example "carrion flowers" like the smooth herbaceous greenbrier (S. herbacea).[10]

Here is a list of species:

  1. Smilax aberrans Gagnep.
  2. Smilax aculeatissima Conran
  3. Smilax amblyobasis K.Krause
  4. Smilax ampla Warb. ex K.Krause
  5. Smilax anceps Willd.
  6. Smilax anguina K.Krause
  7. Smilax annulata Warb. ex K.Krause
  8. Smilax aquifolium Ferrufino & Greuter
  9. Smilax arisanensis Hayata
  10. Smilax aristolochiifolia Mill. – American sarsaparilla
  11. Smilax aspera L. – Mediterranean smilax, common smilax, rough smilax
  12. Smilax aspericaulis'' Wall. ex A.DC.
  13. Smilax assumptionis A.DC.
  14. Smilax astrosperma F.T.Wang & Tang
  15. Smilax auriculata Walter
  16. Smilax australis R.Br. – Lawyer vine, barbwire vine, "wait-a-while" (Australia)
  17. Smilax azorica H.Schaef. & P.Schönfelder
  18. Smilax bapouensis H.Li
  19. Smilax basilata F.T.Wang & Tang
  20. Smilax bauhinioides Kunth
  21. Smilax bella J.F.Macbr.
  22. Smilax biflora Siebold ex Miq.
  23. Smilax biltmoreana (Small) J.B.Norton ex Pennell
  24. Smilax biumbellata T.Koyama
  25. Smilax blumei A.DC.
  26. Smilax bockii Warb.
  27. Smilax bona-nox L. – Saw greenbrier
  28. Smilax borneensis A.DC.
  29. Smilax bracteata Presl
  30. Smilax brasiliensis Sprengel.
  31. Smilax californica (A.DC.) A.Gray
  32. Smilax calophylla Wall. ex A.DC.
  33. Smilax cambodiana Gagnep.
  34. Smilax campestris Griseb.
  35. Smilax canariensis Willd.
  36. Smilax canellifolia Mill.
  37. Smilax celebica Blume
  38. Smilax chapaensis Gagnep.
  39. Smilax china L.
  40. Smilax chingii F.T. Wang & Ts.Tang
  41. Smilax cinnamomea Desf. ex A.DC.
  42. Smilax cissoides M.Martens & Galeotti
  43. Smilax cocculoides Warb.
  44. Smilax cognata Kunth
  45. Smilax compta (Killip & C.V.Morton) Ferrufino
  46. Smilax corbularia Kunth
  47. Smilax cordato-ovata Rich.
  48. Smilax cordifolia Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
  49. Smilax coriacea Spreng.
  50. Smilax cristalensis Ferrufino & Greuter
  51. Smilax cuprea Ferrufino & Greuter
  52. Smilax cuspidata Duhamel
  53. Smilax cyclophylla Warb.
  54. Smilax darrisii H.Lév.
  55. Smilax davidiana A.DC.
  56. Smilax densibarbata F.T.Wang & Tang
  57. Smilax discotis Warb.
  58. Smilax domingensis Willd.
  59. Smilax ecirrata (Engelm. ex Kunth) S.Wats.
  60. Smilax elastica Griseb.
  61. Smilax elegans Wall.
  62. Smilax elegantissima Gagnep.
  63. Smilax elmeri Merr.
  64. Smilax elongatoumbellata Hayata
  65. Smilax emeiensis J.M.Xu
  66. Smilax erecta Merr.
  67. Smilax excelsa L.
  68. Smilax extensa A.DC.
  69. Smilax ferox Wall. ex Kunth
  70. Smilax flavicaulis Rusby
  71. Smilax fluminensis Steud.
  72. Smilax fooningensis F.T.Wang & Tang
  73. Smilax gagnepainii T.Koyama
  74. Smilax gigantea Merr.
  75. Smilax gigantocarpa Koord.
  76. Smilax glabra Roxb. – Chinaroot, tufuling (土茯苓)
  77. Smilax glauca Walter – Cat greenbrier, glaucous greenbrier
  78. Smilax glaucochina Warb.
  79. Smilax glyciphylla Sm. – Sweet sarsaparilla, native sarsaparilla (Australia)
  80. Smilax goyazana A.DC.
  81. Smilax gracilior Ferrufino & Greuter
  82. Smilax griffithii A.DC.
  83. Smilax guianensis Vitman
  84. Smilax guiyangensis C.X.Fu & C.D.Shen
  85. Smilax havanensis Jacq.
  86. Smilax hayatae T.Koyama
  87. Smilax hemsleyana Craib.
  88. Smilax herbacea L. – Smooth Herbaceous Greenbrier, "carrion flower" (southern Quebec in Canada, Eastern United States)
  89. Smilax hilariana A.DC.
  90. Smilax horridiramula Hayata
  91. Smilax hugeri (Small) J.B.Norton ex Pennell
  92. Smilax hypoglauca Benth.
  93. Smilax ilicifolia Desv. ex Ham.
  94. Smilax illinoensis Mangaly – Illinois Greenbrier
  95. Smilax indosinica T.Koyama
  96. Smilax inversa T.Koyama
  97. Smilax irrorata Mart. ex Griseb.
  98. Smilax jamesii G.Wallace
  99. Smilax japicanga Griseb.
  100. Smilax javensis A.DC.
  101. Smilax kaniensis K.Krause
  102. Smilax keyensis Warb. ex K.Krause
  103. Smilax kingii Hook.f.
  104. Smilax klotzschii Kunth
  105. Smilax korthalsii A.DC.
  106. Smilax kwangsiensis F.T.Wang & Tang
  107. Smilax lanceifolia Roxb.
  108. Smilax lappacea Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
  109. Smilax larvata Griseb.
  110. Smilax lasioneura Hook. – Herbaceous greenbrier
  111. Smilax lasseriana Steyerm.
  112. Smilax laurifolia L.
  113. Smilax lebrunii H.Lév.
  114. Smilax leucophylla Blume
  115. Smilax ligneoriparia C.X.Fu & P.Li
  116. Smilax ligustrifolia A.DC.
  117. Smilax loheri Merr
  118. Smilax longifolia Rich.
  119. Smilax lucida'' Merr.
  120. Smilax luei T.Koyama
  121. Smilax lunglingensis F.T.Wang & Tang
  122. Smilax lushuiensis S.C.Chen
  123. Smilax lutescens Vell.
  124. Smilax luzonensis Presl
  125. Smilax macrocarpa Blume
  126. Smilax magnifolia J.F.Macbr.
  127. Smilax mairei Lev.
  128. Smilax malipoensis S.C.Chen
  129. Smilax maritima Feay ex Alph.Wood
  130. Smilax maypurensis Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
  131. Smilax megacarpa A.DC.
  132. Smilax megalantha C.H.Wright
  133. Smilax melanocarpa Ridl.
  134. Smilax melastomifolia Sm.Hoi kuahiwi (Hawaiʻi)
  135. Smilax menispermoidea A.DC.
  136. Smilax microchina T.Koyama
  137. Smilax microphylla C.H.Wright
  138. Smilax minarum A.DC.
  139. Smilax minutiflora A.DC.
  140. Smilax modesta A.DC.
  141. Smilax mollis Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
  142. Smilax moranensis Mart. & Galeotti
  143. Smilax munita S.C.Chen
  144. Smilax muscosa Toledo
  145. Smilax myosotiflora A.DC.
  146. Smilax myrtillus A.DC.
  147. Smilax nageliana A.DC.
  148. Smilax nana F.T.Wang
  149. Smilax nantoensis T.Koyama
  150. Smilax neocaledonica Schltr
  151. Smilax nervomarginata Hayata
  152. Smilax nigrescens F.T.Wang & Tang
  153. Smilax nipponica Miq.
  154. Smilax nova-guineensis T.Koyama
  155. Smilax obliquata Duhamel
  156. Smilax oblongata Sw.
  157. Smilax ocreata DC.
  158. Smilax odoratissima Blume
  159. Smilax officinalis Kunth
  160. Smilax orbiculata Labill.
  161. Smilax ornata Lem.
  162. Smilax orthoptera A.DC.
  163. Smilax outanscianensis Pamp.
  164. Smilax ovalifolia Roxb.
  165. Smilax ovatolanceolata T.Koyama
  166. Smilax pachysandroides T.Koyama
  167. Smilax paniculata M.Martens & Galeotti
  168. Smilax papuana Lauterb.
  169. Smilax perfoliata Lour.
  170. Smilax petelotii T.Koyama
  171. Smilax pilcomayensis Guagl. & S.Gattuso
  172. Smilax pilosa Andreata & Leoni
  173. Smilax pinfaensis H.Lév. & Vaniot
  174. Smilax plurifurcata A.DC.
  175. Smilax poilanei Gagnep.
  176. Smilax polyacantha Wall. ex Kunth
  177. Smilax polycolea Warb.
  178. Smilax populnea Kunth
  179. Smilax pottingeri Prain
  180. Smilax pseudochina L. - False chinaroot
  181. Smilax pulverulenta Michx.
  182. Smilax pumila Walter
  183. Smilax purhampuy Ruiz
  184. Smilax purpurata G.Forst.
  185. Smilax pygmaea Merr.
  186. Smilax quadrata A.DC.
  187. Smilax quadrumbellata T.Koyama
  188. Smilax quinquenervia Vell.
  189. Smilax remotinervis Hand.-Mazz.
  190. Smilax retroflexa (F.T.Wang & Tang) S.C.Chen
  191. Smilax riparia A.DC.
  192. Smilax rotundifolia L. - Common greenbrier (Eastern United States)
  193. Smilax rubromarginata K.Krause
  194. Smilax rufescens Griseb.
  195. Smilax ruiziana Kunth
  196. Smilax salicifolia Griseb.
  197. Smilax sanguinea Posada-Ar.
  198. Smilax santaremensis A.DC.
  199. Smilax saulensis J.D.Mitch.
  200. Smilax schomburgkiana Kunth
  201. Smilax scobinicaulis C.H.Wright
  202. Smilax sebeana Miq.
  203. Smilax setiramula F.T.Wang & Tang
  204. Smilax setosa Miq.
  205. Smilax sieboldii Miq.
  206. Smilax sinclairii T.Koyama
  207. Smilax siphilitica Humb. & Bonpl. ex Willd.
  208. Smilax solanifolia A.DC.
  209. Smilax spicata Vell.
  210. Smilax spinosa Mill.
  211. Smilax spissa Killip & C.V.Morton
  212. Smilax spruceana A.DC.
  213. Smilax stans Maxim.
  214. Smilax stenophylla A.DC.
  215. Smilax subinermis C.Presl
  216. Smilax subpubescens A.DC.
  217. Smilax subsessiliflora Poir.
  218. Smilax synandra Gagnep.
  219. Smilax talbotiana A.DC.
  220. Smilax tamnoides L. - Halberd-leaved greenbrier
  221. Smilax tetraptera Schltr
  222. Smilax timorensis A.DC.
  223. Smilax tomentosa Kunth
  224. Smilax trachypoda J.B.Norton
  225. Smilax trinervula Miq.
  226. Smilax tsinchengshanensis F.T.Wang
  227. Smilax tuberculata C.Presl
  228. Smilax turbans F.T.Wang & Tang
  229. Smilax utilis C.H.Wright
  230. Smilax vaginata Decne.
  231. Smilax vanchingshanensis (F.T.Wang & Tang) F.T.Wang & Tang
  232. Smilax velutina Killip & C.V.Morton
  233. Smilax verrucosa Griseb.
  234. Smilax verticalis Gagnep.
  235. Smilax vitiensis (Seem.) A.DC.
  236. Smilax wallichii Kunth
  237. Smilax walteri Pursh.
  238. Smilax wightii A.DC.
  239. Smilax williamsii Merr.
  240. Smilax yunnanensis S.C.Chen
  241. Smilax zeylanica L.


  1. Being a monocot, members of the family Smilacacea can not lay down true wood.[citation needed]
  1. 1.0 1.1 Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  2. Flora of China Vol. 24 Page 96, 菝葜属 ba qia shu, Smilax Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1028. 1753.
  3. Flora of North America Vol. 26 Page 468, Catbrier, greenbrier, sarsaparilla, Smilax Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 1028. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 455. 1754.
  4. Raven & Zhengyi (2000), FNAEC (2002)
  5. Mifsud (2002)
  6. Katz, Sandor. The Art of Fermentation. Chelsea Green. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-1-60358-286-5. 
  7. F. Speziale, 'Introduction', 9; H. Tadjbakhshi, 'Hôpitaux et médecins avicenniens en Iran à l'époque savafide', 27-28 in Fabrizio Speziale (ed.), Hospitals in Iran and India. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012
  8. "smilax". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 
  9. smilax at
  10. 10.0 10.1 FNAEC (2002)


  • Mifsud, Stephen (2002): Wild Plants of Malta & Gozo – Mediterranean Smilax. Retrieved 2008-OCT-02.

External links