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PlantFiles: Greenbrier, Cowvine
Smilax bona-nox

Family: Smilacaceae
Genus: Smilax (SMIL-aks) (Info)
Species: bona-nox (BOH-nuh noks) (Info)

8 members have or want this plant for trade.

View this plant in a garden

Vines and Climbers

20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

3-6 in. (7-15 cm)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade
Partial to Full Shade
Full Shade

Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Late Winter/Early Spring
Mid Spring


Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive

Soil pH requirements:
4.5 or below (very acidic)
4.6 to 5.0 (highly acidic)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
By dividing the rootball
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)
By dividing the bulb's scales

Seed Collecting:
Unknown - Tell us

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There are a total of 21 photos.
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3 positives
7 neutrals
18 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Negative scsouthrncomfort On Jan 18, 2012, scsouthrncomfort from Smoaks, SC wrote:

A while back I declared war on the plant and, hate to say, it won. For my trouble I have several scars, one of which is 5" on my calf, several years old. Think it's permanent. I found that the cuts had a tendency towards infection, take them seriously. An anti-bacterial spray helped. I tried digging up the bulbs. Two days, a stack the size of a truck engine later, and I had about a 5 x 2' patch cleared. They were that thick. I tried pulling vines out of trees. A 4 wheeler and wench coudn't get the vines but the 350 dually did. Now the tree has no top. 500 acres infested with this stuff. Goats helped but they reproduce almost as quickly as the vines and the vines came back when the goats left. I fought the good fight! It still won. I will do the best I can, as much as I can, and after that, well, I'll never go hungry. (That was info I didn't know. Thanks!) At least there is a positive. A useful site that I found for IDing the plants: If you go to classifications it will help you sort by region, category, etc That's all it tells you, so you can ID the plant there but you'll have to come here and get the info on what to do about it. Good luck to all!

Positive treasurefish1 On Nov 13, 2011, treasurefish1 wrote:

I used to hate this nasty plant with every fiber in my body until I learned that every part of it is edible. I haven't tried it yet, but I am going to eat my way out of this thorny mess.

Neutral SigourneyBeaver On Aug 26, 2010, SigourneyBeaver from Pine Island, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Boy, I'm not sure I can bring myself to munch on this evil plant. Between the spikes on the vine and the sheer strength of the vine itself, this thing has a real bad attitude. It sure grows wherever it wants to.

Neutral ssssssss On Jul 1, 2010, ssssssss from Kechi, KS wrote:

It is nice to finally have a name for my enemy. It just appeared two years ago next to a large rose bush. The first year I thought it was pretty but it and the rose bush have made it almost impossible to reach the water faucet without torn skin or clothes.

I noticed this year that it had invaded the rose bush and was holding its branches down/I don't like to kill the plants that "volunteer" but this year I've had no choice but to start cutting it back to save the roses and end the battle to reach the water.

I have not noticed it in other area but the info here will have me outside today looking/it is a big enough pest in one area of the garden.

Thanks for the info and good luck to everyone on the war with this little monster.

Negative eatmyplants On Apr 27, 2010, eatmyplants from Comanche county, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I don't usually give negatives to plants, but I'll make an exception for this vine. But one thing I have observed is that it doesn't seem to grow under Eastern redcedar trees. Its favorites seems to be oaks and cedar elms.

Negative gooley On May 16, 2009, gooley from Hawthorne, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

The leaves are weirdly pretty. The combination of thorns and an astoundingly tough stem (materials scientists need to study this plant! It is almost as tough as steel wire but less brittle, and duplicating the secret of that could make somebody very rich) makes it a pain to cut -- and it will return.

I can't add much to the other negative comments. I tend to leave it and its relatives alone when I can get away with doing that, but that is just a sign that I've been neglecting my acreage.

Negative Drewky On Dec 13, 2008, Drewky from Crossville, TN wrote:

I have found this plant EVERYWHERE. I live in Middle Tennesse and I often go on hikes. These lil vines are extremely tough and hard break. Ussually if you trip over one of these while hiking your most likely going to eat some dirt. Around my house they tend to grow near small saplings and my black berrys.

Negative luthier On Jun 16, 2008, luthier from Jones, OK wrote:

I've fought it for 15 years and the only way I have yet made any serious progress is to dig out, by hand, the underground tubers and rhizomes. Here in central Oklahoma it will climb to the top of a forty foot or taller oak tree and eventually kill it. It weighs down the branches and I've seen the tree die with no other sign of a problem.
A man told me last week that he was told by an elderly man years ago that if it were cut to the ground "when the sign is in the heart" in August that it wouldn't grow back. I have yet to find any information in the Old Farmer's Almanac any reference to "when the sign is in the heart". The man who told me this said he had followed the instructions and the brier hadn't grown back yet after several years. Folklore? Wishful thinking? Rural legend? I would do cartwheels if it should prove to have any basis in fact. Anyone know anything about any of this?

Neutral jimwidess On Mar 18, 2008, jimwidess from Berkeley, CA wrote:

I am trying to identify the vine that is woven around this gourd. An English botanist suggested it might be Smilax. The gourd and vine are designated as Western Apache which could be from New Mexico, Arizona down through North-Western Mexico. Possibly from Sonora. I have never seen Smilax (I'm in Northern California). There are thorns on the vine. Does Smilax turn a deep yellow color with age. How flexible is it when it is green. Could one weave with it when it is green with the thorns still attached to the stem? I've uploaded the photo separately but with my name attached.

Positive fauna4flora On Mar 10, 2008, fauna4flora from West Palm Beach, FL wrote:

I do not disagree with the negatives to ridding your property of this vine, however I am going to chime in with a lot of little known positives about this Florida native. So many non-native species in the tropics get harshly criticized- this plant competes with many of the invasive non natives. The tender leaves are edible, and the tuber is as well. Native Americans, after being driven to a very inhospitable Florida, virtually survived off of this plant and the starches derived from the tuber. Young leaves have a "nutty" flavor, and flowers are fragrant. Compliments a natural approach to landscaping- once it is established in the canopy it is not very bothersome and is slow growing compared to something like thunbergia.

Neutral slavelabor On Jul 25, 2007, slavelabor from Niceville, FL wrote:

I have had more experience with this scourge than I care to elaborate on. For those who find the plant neutral or positive please come and take mine. Having cleared a large area of these plants I can say that none of the ways mentioned in previous posts is a permanent solution. You can kill or remove a shoot, but there are runners the size and consistency of small branches that run from 6 inches to 2 feet under the ground that allow them to just sprout a new vine. I have found some runners over 10 feet long and they seem to be able to sprout from anywhere along its length..And in northwest Florida at least, they will grow as much as 3 feet in a week. I know because I attack them with a weed whacker every week. If left for very long you will be pulling 30 foot vine out of your trees as others have mentioned, If you follow the runners they will lead to tuberous growths that I have found to be as large as backing potatoes. They are white and similar in consistency to beets. I have considered eating these just as revenge, but thought better of it. Anyway that is the real plant that must be eliminated. As long as they are alive you can spray (I have found Ortho Poison Ivy Killer has limited success on very young plants) pull, chop and whack to your hearts content and they will return. Ripping runners out of the ground slows them considerably, but only removing these sources of growth will rid them. I had a large (about 25 by 50 foot) natural area in front of my house when we moved in. Much of the area was thick with Turkey Oak, Scrub Oak and these awful vines. We had it cleared by professionals who used furrowing machines to ground up the roots of the small trees they removed. We left 5 large Oaks and 23 Azaleas that had spread naturally in that area. A few weeks later hundreds of the Cowvines started growing up everywhere as if like starfish we had only provided a means for them to replicate and spread. While growing almost everywhere, even sprouting 10 feet into the lawn which had not happened before. But they concentrated amongst remaining plants and trees. It is hard enough to remove them from clearings and flower beds, but if the area they infest has trees and in my case bushes then it is next to impossible, These things have an alien intelligence. I say that because the "potatoes" I refer to, invariably nest in the roots of woody plants and trees. The area that I referred to above where I was successful, took many hours of backbreaking work and was an area where I was removing all growth anyway. I would like to add to the old joke about after a nuclear war there will only be cockroaches. These cockroaches will be crawling up Greenbriar Cowvines.

If I ever move I will inspect the property for any signs of this useless nuisance before buying.

Positive jaiagreen On May 3, 2007, jaiagreen from Athens, GA wrote:

The young shoots are good to eat and have a very rich flavor. I could see this becoming a gourmet vegetable!

Negative LarissaH On Oct 7, 2006, LarissaH from Denton, TX (Zone 7b) wrote:

This horrible vine was all over a property I moved into last year. I've been cutting (at least 7 bagfulls!), using roundup, and it still comes back over and over. It sprouts up anywhere within 100 foot radius. I can't plant anything along a back fence until I get it in control. Unfortunately, the fence backs to a horse pasture and I can't control what they do or don't do on that side, so it can grow outside of my reach and try coming back! Looks like I'll be fighting this one for years...

Negative escambiaguy On Dec 26, 2005, escambiaguy from Atmore, AL (Zone 8b) wrote:

Back in the old days when forest where burned on a regular basis this vine was probably not much of a problem. But now with the absence of fire it will take over a woodland area. I have some large old water oaks with this stuff all up in the branches. It will weigh them down and catch the wind causing them to break. I have not had any luck with herbicides. I just have to keep recutting them over and over again. But I must say its no worse than scuppernong vines.

Neutral WUVIE On Oct 23, 2005, WUVIE from Hulbert, OK (Zone 7a) wrote:

Greenbrier is wild and thorny, common sense would tell anyone it isn't going to perform circus acts.

Though I would not plant such a wild and thorny thing in
my garden, I do enjoy it in a natural setting such as our
back woods in the country. The wildlife and birds are
among those who appreciate such a plant. It is not a wise
choice for home gardens.

Greenbrier gets a thumbs up from me due to it's durable
vines, which I fashion into wreaths and various garden
ornamentation all summer and fall.

Neutral ILoveBirds On Oct 17, 2005, ILoveBirds from Norman, OK wrote:

So far, experience with the vine has been neutral, but I could see where it could quickly beocme negative. The vine is growing in a woodsy area bordering our backyard in Norman, OK, where someone's put up a wire mesh fence. If it's good for birds, that's good enough for me. But it is really prickly, and I can see how it'd be a real pain if it was in an area I was cultivating. I've seen it in similar wooded areas in Edmond, OK.

Negative JaxFlaGardener On Mar 7, 2005, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I, too, am trying to disentangle nearly every hedge in my garden in NE Fla from this abrasive, aggressive plant. Before buying my house 3 years ago, it was used for several years as a rental property by the previous owner. The renters were apparently not motivated to stop the spread of these and other noxious weeds. I sometimes dig up Smilax tubers as large as good sized sweet potatoes. The underground root system can run for yards away from the original tuber and form more tubers and more vines at several node points on the roots.

Another danger of which you should be aware with this plant is a hazard incurred when pulling the vine out of the tops of trees (and it will grow to the very top and wrap around the branch tips on the way up). I nearly put an eye out by tugging on a long vine from the ground. When the vine broke loose, it broke off a small pointed branch, the sharp point of which hit me in the face and made a puncture wound just above my eyebrow, requiring medical attention to clean out the wound. If the branch tip had hit another half inch further down, I might have been blinded in one eye. So, in addition to wearing thick gloves when handling this vine, I would recommend wearing protective eye goggles when pulling it out of trees and tall shrubs.

This is one mean vine that fights back if you try to eliminate it.

One of our local native plant society meetings several years back was presented by Deuerling, author of a book listing the edible plants in Florida. He said that the young, emerging tender green spikes of Smilax can be cut off at the base, boiled, and eaten like asparagus. I've not tried it, but I don't need to ever worry about going hungry. I would have enough Smilax asparagus to eat for a lifetime and I'm sure there would be more to replace it.

I noticed an emerging sprig of Smilax yesterday with young, green, tender, new growth. I snapped off the sprig and ate it raw. There are no thorns at the tip of new growth so it was pleasant to chew. It does taste very much like asparagus, but slightly more bitter. I'm not dead yet, so it is apparently edible as Deuerling asserted. A good portion of the Smilax sprigs steamed and tossed with a balsamic/lemon juice/olive oil vinagrette dressing would probably make a nice Spring salad. This experience may provide me with an entirely new theory for control of weeds -- "If you can't eradicate them, eat them."

Negative NativePlantFan9 On Mar 6, 2005, NativePlantFan9 from Boca Raton, FL (Zone 10a) wrote:

Saw Greenbriar, Greenbriar or Cowvine (Smilax bona-nox) is a nasty, thorny, hard-to-get-rid-of native species that can clamber over shrubs, trees, and fences. The stems have sharp spines that can puncture skin and cause strong pain and scratches.

This vine is native to the United States and is found in much of the eastern and central U.S., and is found as far northeast as New Jersey and as far northwest as Kansas, Missouri and Illinois, south throughout the southeastern U.S., Florida, and the Gulf coastal states, west into Texas.

It is an aggressive and fast-growing vine, a member of the genus Smilax. It can be VERY hard to get rid of.

There are also sharp spines at the base where the leaf stem meets the main stem. OUCH! You may not see the spines on the stem or the spines at the leaf stem base until it is too late when you step on it or are trying to pull this vine out.

The leaves are rounded and pointed.

This is a viney or shrubby, climbing or clambering species.

Even though it is native, it is a huge pain!

Negative Alocasiaaddict On Jan 11, 2005, Alocasiaaddict from Interlachen, FL wrote:

Worst plant in my experience. Only effective weapon is a Goat. Yes, a goat. Otherwise, forget it, they have deep runners and you'll lose the battle every time.

Negative chicochi3 On Dec 20, 2004, chicochi3 from Fayetteville, AR (Zone 6b) wrote:

I have to agree with everything that has been said here. I have had some luck with killing individual vines with Roundup Heavy Brush Killer. The way this has worked is to cut the vine off at ground level during the growing season. When the new growth starts to come up, spray the new growth with Roundup. The ones that I have done this to have not returned.

Neutral crimsontsavo On Jul 12, 2004, crimsontsavo from Crossville, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

Hateful vine that this is... grrrrrrrrr- I have seen it growing in bushes though- protecting birds nests from predators- so it isnt all bad.
I carry a scar several years after running into this plant. It cut very deeply into my front ankle- grrr. Be careful when handling this vine, it could hurt a child badly.

Negative MARISOL On Jul 1, 2004, MARISOL from New Bern, NC wrote:

I never saw one of these vines until I bought my own house. They are evil! They look evil, they act evil!! I have several flowering bushes and trees in my yard and this vine has completely taken over an entire tree. They wrap so tight, you can cut, but you can't pull the vine out, so my tree is a big tangled mess.

Among my hydrangeas, azaleas, and gardenias, these sprout up and take over. I have used round up and it does work on them, but they are quick to sprout up anywhere. And if they are tangled in other plants, be sure not to let the round up touch them. Even the roots are scary! The roots are thorny and have thorny "knuckles" like one of those spiked cannonball looking things on chains. I have chopped one near the base which was an inch in diameter, but they morphed into a new weed and look as though they've never been cut as they reach to the nearest plant.

I would love to never see one of these plants again!!

Negative Fran99 On Jun 21, 2004, Fran99 from Spartanburg, SC wrote:

HORRIBLE PLANT. The leaves on mine are somewhat heart-shaped, S. rotundifolia. Who cares? The thorns can do some major damage. It got in the tops of my 8 ' azelea bushes, still am fighting it. The field guide describes it as a "attractive vine". Ugh. They must not be from here.

Negative mseybold On Jun 20, 2004, mseybold from Kansas City, MO wrote:

I had my first run-in with this is very obnoxious plant yesterday in Kansas City. I just came from the emergency room after puncturing a knuckle joint with one of the needles -a very painful experience! This plant is very hard to control, dangerous, and should be avoided whenever possible. Be sure to wear heavy clothes and gloves when working around it. On a positive note, it does not seem to strangle trees to death like poision ivy. Be careful!

Negative Wingnut On Jun 16, 2004, Wingnut from Spicewood, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

Yes, yes and yes to everything everyone's said. The only positive thing I can say about it is I have a stretch of pasture fence covered in it and have yet to see any cows, horses or sheep get out of or even attempt to escape the pasture in that area. ;)

Negative SILady On May 31, 2004, SILady from Enterprise, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

Zone 9b 25 M. NE Orlando, FL This vine is everywhere here next to Lake Monroe. It seems to have a potatoe like root very deep and the only way to get rid of it is dig or pull (good luck) (be verrrrry careful.. it bites!) it up. We are slowly winning the war!

Negative Terry On Mar 1, 2004, Terry from Murfreesboro, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

There are a few persistent shoots of this plant in my front beds that I pull/dig up/spray with Round-up throughout the summer. I can't seem to kill it, but it doesn't seem to be spreading, so I guess we're at a stalemate. It's most definitely an unpleasant weed to contend with.

Negative HarryNJ On Mar 1, 2004, HarryNJ from Ocean Grove, NJ (Zone 7a) wrote:

Hideous, super-thorny weed that is impossible to get rid of and spreads all over from undreground rhizomes attached to hard walnut-like tubers DEEP in the ground. It will rip the skin off your hands if you try to pull it and shoot back up seemingly overnight if you cut it to the ground.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Atmore, Alabama
Daleville, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Archer, Florida
Bartow, Florida
Bokeelia, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
Deltona, Florida
Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Fountain, Florida
Hawthorne, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Keystone Heights, Florida
Live Oak, Florida
Milton, Florida
Niceville, Florida
Ocala, Florida
Palm Harbor, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
West Palm Beach, Florida
Winter Park, Florida
Atlanta, Georgia
Brunswick, Georgia
Loganville, Georgia
Mcdonough, Georgia
Kechi, Kansas
Salvisa, Kentucky
Valley Lee, Maryland
Mashpee, Massachusetts
Grand Haven, Michigan
Waynesboro, Mississippi
Piedmont, Missouri
Beaufort, North Carolina
Manteo, North Carolina
Pittsboro, North Carolina
Hulbert, Oklahoma
Jones, Oklahoma
Pocola, Oklahoma
Aiken, South Carolina
Conway, South Carolina
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Sumter, South Carolina
Crossville, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
Beaumont, Texas
De Leon, Texas
Denton, Texas
Houston, Texas
Mc Kinney, Texas
Richmond, Texas
Royse City, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Spicewood, Texas
Spring Branch, Texas
Streetman, Texas
Weatherford, Texas

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