The Beautiful Greenbrier Plant Is One Pretty Weed

Once the greenbrier plant gets comfortable, your gardening work might get a little complicated.

Greenbrier Vine
Photo: Getty/

Ever heard of a catbrier? What about a deer thorns? According to Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center, there are quite a few monikers for the greenbrier vine, a shiny-leaved, bright green trailer that would be pretty—if it was not so invasive. The problem is that greenbrier vines don't ask for a lot at first. But they are not to be underestimated, and can take over your cool and shady beds faster than greased lightning.

What Is Greenbrier Good For?

Native to North America, greenbrier is one pretty weed. It's part of the Liliaceae family and can easily be mistaken by novice gardeners as poison ivy. Though it might be a pest for our garden beds and yards, it's important to note the larger role the greenbrier plant plays in nature.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin describes greenbrier as an important part of the wildlife ecosystem, providing cover for birds and small mammals while also being a food source for a variety of birds. In North America, there are around 15 known species, but the most common variety are the woody-stemmed, prickly versions that can quickly form dense thickets if left to their own devices. While a haven for small creatures, these thickets can be a problem for home gardens.

Beware the Spread of Greenbrier

The greenbrier vine is dioecious, meaning it has both male and female plants. The female plant produces edible berries that appear in late summer and are a real treat for birds and other garden foragers. Once the berry is consumed and subsequently finds itself back in your yard (or your neighbor's—sorry, Jan!), it can quickly lead to a greenbrier problem. Upon finding a greenbrier within your landscape, it's best to remove it thoroughly and without delay.

Timing Is Everything

When determining the best method for greenbrier vine control, you'll need to take inventory of what you're dealing with. If plants are small, with shallow root systems, you should be able to dig them up without issue. Larger weeds will have to be cut back and sprayed with a chemical solution, which Clemson Home & Garden Information Center describes in detail.

The glossy leaves of mature plants don't allow for the solution to penetrate effectively. In order for the method to work, it must be used on newer, less mature foliage regrowth. Greenbrier have extensive roots that provide an additional challenge—even when ornamental shrubs aren't part of the equation. They'll regenerate quickly, so special attention has to be payed when eradicating them to ensure no small clippings are left behind.

Nurture the Native Plant

Native plant species can be considered anything that is native to the geographic area where they evolved. While it healthy for the environment to nurture these plants, it can be detrimental to introduce a plant that is non-native to that same area. A great example are ferns. We don't know about you, but an outdoor fern can bring to mind deep forest experiences, and a woodsy, clean smell. But that sensation might just be a memory from your last trip to the Pacific Northwest.

In the South, certain species of fern can grow quickly and become out of control with surprising efficiency. These are the red flags to look for when trying to determine if the fern is native or not. For tips on how to identify non-native fern species and how to mitigate their growth, read our helpful guide.

Another Weed to Eradicate

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) looks like a nice little shrub with heart-shaped leaves, bamboo like-stems, and pretty, little white flowers. Its sweet looks are deceiving, though, as the plant is absolutely relentless. This is yet another of those weeds that can make your gardening goals dismal as you try again and again to perform eradication.

This bad boy is so aggressive, it can actually damage your foundation if it goes unchecked. We are here to help. Be sure to read our rundown on how to identify Japanese knotweed and what to do if you fall victim to its voracious growth. Beware: the powerful taproot of this plant could take down your patio or create cracks in your walkway.

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