Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Getting Caught Up in the Garden

You have seen it if you live at Holly Lake Ranch. That vine with the shiny green leaves, beautiful red or black berries, and thorns, prickles or spines (depending on species). Like you care if it is a prickle or thorn when the vine is stuck in the middle of your leg!! We are talking about Smilax or Greenbrier.

Run-in with Smilax

If you are curious, a prickle is a sharp outgrowth from the plant’s bark. A thorn is a modified stem. A spine is a sharp pointed modified leaf. Even more confusing is all true Greenbriers are Smilax but not all Smilax species are Greenbriers. Here is east Texas we are “blessed” with many species of Smilax but suffice it to say, we will call it Smilax.  

The red-berried Smilax (Smilax walteri) creeps over bushes at the edges of sandy swamps or near streams. It is a thin woody vine, which may be spiny or nearly spineless. Its leaf surfaces are shiny green and it bears red berries during the winter. It has long underground runners, but is not tuberous.

Walteri - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs
Sarsaparilla Vine (Smilax pumila) can be found growing in the open sandy woods of east Texas. This weak, “unarmed” vine has few tendrils at the nodes and prefers to climb over low plants. The young leaves and stem are densely pubescent (having fine hairs), becoming lustrous and smooth as it ages. It, too, has red berries but in the spring.
Pumila - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs
China-root smilax (Smilax tamnoides) likes the damp woods and low areas near creeks. It has knotty rhizomes, while the vine runs over bushes and climbs into trees using its tendrils. The lower part of the stem is covered with needle-like spines. The shiny leaves are of different shapes.
Tamnoides - photo courtesy of Benny Simpson's Texas Native Shrubs

There are other species of Smilax: laurifolia, bona nox, routunifolia, smallii, and glauca, lasioneura that grow in Texas. One species is enough for me!

The one redeeming quality of this plant is that parts are edible. **DO NOT EAT ANY PLANT UNLESS YOU ARE 100% SURE WHAT THE PLANT IS.** On Merriwether’s blog "Foraging Texas", he states that tender vines, tendrils, tubers, leaves and berries are edible. He even makes vegan jello shots from this plant. Here is his blog:

You may not want this vine in your garden or yard and are having trouble getting rid of it. No amount of cutting or spraying will do the trick. The problem is tubers! Digging out the tubers is the only way to do away with this leg-eating vine. But if you read Merriwether’s blog, the tubers are high in starch and edible. Wonder if I can substitute tubers for potatoes in my diet?

Tubers from one plant
Baby Smilax - photo courtesy of Sonnia Hill

So, if you are out working in the woods, be sure to wear leather gloves, long sleeves and jeans. Be sure to tell your family where you are. If you should go missing, they will know you are being held captive by the thorns, prickles, and spines of Smilax!

And, as always, things could be worse. . . . 

Ann Reynolds