greenbrier, catbrier

FAMILY: Liliaceae | GENUS: SMILAX

TYPE
  • Evergreen
  • Vines / Ground Covers
  • Deciduous
SUN EXPOSURE
  • Full Sun
  • Partial Shade
WATER
  • Regular Water
  • Moderate Water
  • Drought Tolerant
PLANTING ZONES
  • MS (Middle South) / Zone 7
  • LS (Lower South) / Zone 8
  • CS (Coastal South) / Zone 9

Plant Details

Native to the Americas, this is a large group of tough, moderately fast-growing, evergreen to deciduous vines that grow from rhizomes or large tubers. Some species are valuable ornamentals, others flat-out weeds; some are viciously thorny, others nearly thornless. All climb by tendrils. Greenish or yellowish flowers in spring or early summer are small and insignificant, but the berries that follow are often showy and are relished by birds. Because many species look similar, this is a difficult group to sort out; the common names can be as tangled as the vines.

S. bona-nox. SAW GREENBRIER, CATBRIER, BULLBRIER. Semievergreen to deciduous. May scramble to 20 ft., but usually forms large thickets close to the ground. The prickly, squarish green stems are set with glossy green, 2- to 5-in.-long leaves shaped like fiddles or arrowheads; leaves may have lighter green blotches. Blue-black berries. Best use for this weedy plant is as wildlife cover. Partial shade.

S. glauca. CAT GREENBRIER, SAWBRIER. Deciduous. To 812 ft., with thin stems armed with short prickles. Oval to kidney-shaped green leaves with silvery undersides reach 6 in. long, turn orange-red in fall. Blue-black berries. Worth leaving in a naturalized area to attract birds.

S. pumila. DWARF SMILAX, WILD SARSAPARILLA. Evergreen in the southern part of its range, deciduous farther north. Low- growing vine trails to 10 ft., with oval to lance-shaped, glossy, green leaves to 4 in. long. Thornless, fuzzy stems. Clustered, showy berries change from golden to red in fall. Can be used as a casual ground cover. Best in sandy soil and partial to full shade.

S. rotundifolia. COMMON GREENBRIER, HORSE BRIER. Deciduous. Vigorous, high-climbing (to 20-ft.) scrambler with thorny, squarish stems. Green leaves with lighter green markings are round to heart shaped, up to 6 in. long. Blue-black berries. Grows from a huge tuber. Good choice for a wildlife garden.

S. smallii. JACKSON VINE, LANCELEAF GREENBRIER. Evergreen. The most important ornamental species, this old favorite, named for Stonewall Jackson, is prized for its glossy, deep green foliage; leaves and stems are popular for holiday decorations, as they retain their color long after cutting. The plant climbs to 10 ft.; it's a favorite for training over doorways, windows, and arbors in the Lower South. Stems near the plant's base are thorny, but thinner stems higher up are essentially thornless. Oval, pointed leaves are 6 in. long. Clustered berries are large and colorful, maturing from green through red to blackish blue. Jackson vine is usually started from enormous tubers dug from the wild but can be easily started from seed.

S. walteri. CORAL GREENBRIER. Deciduous. Thin-stemmed species to a possible 20 ft.; noted for bright orange-red berries. Leathery, rounded to oval, bright green leaves to 5 in. long; they turn orange-red in fall. Stems near the plant's base are prickly, but upper stems are thornless. Tolerates wet soil and just about any exposure. Good for bringing fall color to naturalized areas.

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