Smilax hispida

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: sarsaparilla plant 
Type: Vine
Family: Smilacaceae
Native Range: Southern and central United States
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 20.00 to 40.00 feet
Spread: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: Greenish
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden
Flower: Showy
Attracts: Birds
Fruit: Showy
Other: Thorns
Tolerate: Drought


Easily grown in most soils. Best in moist loams in full sun to part shade. Tolerates wet soils. This species is weedy and difficult to manage because of its bristly stems, but it does not spread invasively by rooting stems, stolons or self-seeding.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Smilax hispida, called greenbriar, bristly greenbrier or catbrier, is the most common greenbriar found in Missouri where it typically occurring in thickets, low woods, wooded slopes and stream banks in virtually every county in the state (Steyermark). It is a deciduous, twining, woody vine that grows to 20-40’. It will climb by tendrils or ramble along the ground, often forming dense, impenetrable, shrubby thickets in the wild. Plants are dioecious: greenish flowers appear in axillary clusters on separate male and female plants. Flowers bloom in May-June. Fertilized female flowers give way to blue-black, glaucous berries that ripen in late summer to fall. Fruits are attractive to many birds. Broad, ovate-rounded, green leaves (2-5” long) are sometimes heart-shaped. Paired stipular tendrils appear at the leaf stalk bases. Green stems are covered with weak, bristle-like prickles that turn distinctively black with age. Greenbrier thickets provide dense cover for small mammals and birds. Young leaves, shoots and tendrils are edible and make tasty additions to salads. Synonymous with and formerly known as S. tamnoides var. hispida. In the Joel Chandler Harris children’s story, the infamous “brier patch” which Brer Rabbit implored Brer Fox not to fling him into was presumably a tangled thicket of greenbrier.

Genus name comes from the Greek name.

Specific epithet means bristly in obvious reference to the stem bristles.


No serious insect or disease problems.


Greenbrier is a weedy vine that is not considered to have sufficient ornamental value for growing on trellises, fences and pergolas or in other prominent locations around the home. It is effective in open woodland areas and native plant areas. May be trained as a hedge or incorporated into a hedgerow for property lines. Also effective when grown along the ground as a ground cover, providing good erosion control for slopes and banks.