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PlantFiles: Greenbriar, Bull Briar, Horse Brier, Cat Brier, Common Green Brier, Round Leaf Greenbrier
Smilax rotundifolia

Family: Smilacaceae
Genus: Smilax (SMIL-aks) (Info)
Species: rotundifolia (ro-tun-dih-FOH-lee-uh) (Info)

2 members have or want this plant for trade.

Vines and Climbers

4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)
10-12 ft. (3-3.6 m)
12-15 ft. (3.6-4.7 m)
15-20 ft. (4.7-6 m)
20-30 ft. (6-9 m)
30-40 ft. (9-12 m)

Unknown - Tell us

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)
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)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade

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

Bloom Color:
Pale Green

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer


Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
5.1 to 5.5 (strongly acidic)
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)
7.9 to 8.5 (alkaline)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
Unknown - Tell us

Seed Collecting:
Unknown - Tell us

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4 positives
5 neutrals
16 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Negative VillyCarl On Jun 25, 2014, VillyCarl from Plano, TX wrote:

I have rated it negative for several reasons:
1) It is non native and invasive.
2) once established, and this happens quickly, it is very difficult to remove.
3) It spreads easily both by underground roots and by birds spreading the seeds. These roots are deep and hard to dig up.
4) it stores large amounts of water in its roots, so can survive droughts and dry conditions readily.
5) It climbs native plants and trees and will over-top and kill native trees and shrubs.
6) if it is established in your hedges / shrubs / trees it may take years of committed effort to remove.
7) Due to its thickly distributed thorns, it can trap small animals and pets.
8) Its very thorny stems (Vines) make it very difficult to handle.

Counterpoint, it does have a few redeeming properties.
1) it is edible. Tender tips of new growth served like asparagus. Leaves made into "tea", starch from the roots, and new small roots.
2) Shelters birds (Who then spread the seeds) It is eaten by some wildlife.
3) It is eaten by some wildlife.

Overall, its harmful properties far outweigh its good ones and is considered a pernicious weed by most people.

Positive Marcintosh On Aug 22, 2013, Marcintosh from Branford, CT wrote:

I have found the way to kill this menace to society.


I don't like to spray pesticides/herbicides. It goes all over the place even if you're careful.
Cut the stems off any way you can or, just shorten them to less than a foot. CLEAR AWAY the debris so you can get at the stump without tripping and stumbling.
Using a foam paint brush, paint / daub the open wounds with ORTHO MAX Poison Ivy & Tough Brush Killer Concentrate.
Full Strength.
- Use fluid proof disposable gloves ( I wear 2 pair Nitrile gloves) and EYE Protection.
DO NOT RUSH THIS PROCESS. Think of this as surgery and take your time.
Cut the stems and remove them our of your way.
Prepare a place to kneel. When kneeling, open the bottle and carefully pour a small amount of the fluid into the cup.
I like to use a small piece of plywood on the ground nearby to put everything on I also have a rag or two in case of a small spill I can catch it before it leaves the plywood.
If you pour the poison out of the bottle then pour it into a disposable container, I use a paper/plastic cup (small)- Dispose of ALL materials in the manner the manufacturer recommends.

Round Up uses Glyphosate - doesn't even touch it - Glyphosate is intended for grasses. You're just wasting your money. The Round Up For Brush just uses more Glyphosate

This is what you want -

Sit back and wait - If you listen carefully you can hear it screaming

Shortly you will have dead brush instead of thorns and I mean shortly. By the next week it's so dead you'll be smiling.

Here's a tip nobody speaks about. When pouring, when daubing / painting, do not speak to anyone, do not whistle, do not breathe through your mouth - KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT - because accidents happen.

I'm reclaiming a ten acre pasture. It's been a labor of hate. When you poison your plants in this manner, you haven't spread the chemistry all over the place. I like that idea.
I've killed stands of twenty streamers, branches 1.5 inches across, the things are nearly 20 feet across and many are over ten feet tall. If you cut them they only grow back next year with more streamers.
Using this method you can kill them even if they're growing from between rocks and you can't get to the roots.

I've called this a "positive" because I've had 100% success.

Negative dellalemoine On Jan 1, 2013, dellalemoine from Browndell, TX wrote:

I actually have a question to post about this thorny vine with a monster root, but I had to give a rating and so I have rated this plant as negative because of my experiences with it as a gardener. As I read the posts of others here, I have become quite interested in this vine and may wish to change my rating after allowing myself to become better acquainted with it.
Now, my in Brookeland in East Texas, we call this vine Devil's Thorn. Has anyone else heard it being referred to by this name?

Negative TheTropix On May 2, 2012, TheTropix from Woodville, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

I live in the Piney Woods area of Texas, near Woodville. I, too, will probably spend the rest of my life trying to dig the "sticker taters" out of my yard. I hate that blankety-blank vine! I've dug into huge colonies and a few huge individuals, as big as a man's arm. I wish terrible things on those vile vines. ; )
I'm not certain exactly which of the several varieties is growing here, but if anyone wants the roots, with or without growth, I'll be happy to help out with freshly dug roots... as many as you want to pay shipping for!!
Zone 8 (almost, but not quite 9)

Negative n7andy On Nov 16, 2011, n7andy wrote:

The first time I encountered this plant was several years ago in the Florida Keys. It was like vinyl coated wire with needle-sharp thorns. I had never seen it before, and a neighbor called it "Devil's Bit". I made several attempts to track it down but failed. A few days ago I saw it in a park along a small river in Anoka, Minnesota. I was totally shocked to discover the same "wire" and "needles". I described it to my father and he suggested Briar. I am thrilled to find this site and the information on the vine. It's November and some of the leaves are still on the vines. They remind me of the leaves of the Dutchman's Pipe Vine, except they are ribbed. The vines are loaded with clumps of black/blue berries. There are several places in the park where this vine has climbed small trees. Seems to grow in the shady places in dry and sandy soil. It's strange to see this vine and not bittersweet, in the hardwoods.

Positive fkintys On Nov 4, 2011, fkintys from Knoxville, TN wrote:

I used to loathe greenbriar, but now that I've discovered the root is of cullinary value I'm going to dig the root. If this plant is a nuiasance to you don't try to kill it...dig it up, dry and grind it and cook with might even make a little money for your effort at the farmers market?

Positive bfarner On Sep 20, 2011, bfarner from Cokercreek, TN (Zone 6b) wrote:

I have to give this plant a positive rating even though others see it as a nuisance, and/or invasive plant. I personally enjoy "living fences" around my property and encourage my cat briars to grow profusely around the borders of my property. The vine can be trained, but you have to keep on top of it. It doesn't do well intertwined in your petunias!

I do not let it grow up my trees or in other places they are not wanted. They work fairly well when let run along steel wiring like you would a grape arbor that runs along a fence. Yes, they require pruning and cutting back when they get out of control. The only way to get rid of the plant is to dig up the roots entirely. I have seen deer grazing on the tender shoots, and have enjoyed eating them myself, either raw or cooked.

A lot of plants that are considered invasive or a nuisance probably has an edible or medicinal value, or some saving grace for the plant. Only one I can't think of, would possibly be poison oak....well maybe one saving grace there too. Birds relish the seeds and get a benefit from it.

Just my opinion on briars.
Marie Morris

Negative Henry_Fool On May 3, 2011, Henry_Fool from South Harwich, MA wrote:

I once lived in a wooded area by the sea on Cape Cod, but now exist, day to day with botanical stigmata, in a barbed wire wasteland of Smilax rotundifolia. This godless evil first infested the brush, pulling down full-grown shrubs and bending them to its will. From there it took to climbing trees and traveling via insidious vine beneath my feet in the dirty dark, popping up as new insults far from its Crayola flesh toned and malformed body. Poisons do not work, small arms fire is ineffective, and my recent hoodoo Satanic rituals only served to make it angry. Please, i beg you, before i am trapped completely inside by this vicious freak of nature, tell me how to kill it dead and for all time, preferably sans poison.

remember me...

Negative jdelutis On Nov 18, 2010, jdelutis from Buzzards Bay, MA wrote:

I am still looking for an efficient way to eradicate this noxious plant. It has established in almost 15 acres of sandy upland forest on Cape Cod killing or discouraging everything in it's path. I have used aDR mower where possible and removed it from trees and blueberry bushes but need a (hopefully) non toxic control. JD

Neutral DebbyAnn On Jul 22, 2010, DebbyAnn from South Sioux City, NE wrote:

Just to let you know, this "evil" plant grows very well in eastern Nebraska, too. Just seeing those thorns makes me hurt! I've got it growing in my lilac bushes. Thanks, little birds. Why do I have such good luck growing things like greenbriar and Creeping Charlie? The new growth kind of reminded me of wild violets, with a bit of a bite! Wish me luck in getting rid of this menace.

Negative stuffysus On May 11, 2010, stuffysus from Summerfield, FL wrote:

This vine pops all over my central florida garden.I don't know where it comes from. The "potato" like root must be dug out and it is deep. I have had moderate luck using "crossbow" i found at Traactor Supply. it takes several applications and is expensive. it kills everything , so use with caution.

Negative quejo On May 8, 2010, quejo from Clifton, VA wrote:

I have beautiful woods behind my townhome that also act to block the view of other homes and an Electrical Turbine station nearby. Unfortunately several of the large trees are dying (I don't think it's the Greenbriar), and the natural replacement saplings are being killed by the Greenbriar. In only 2 growing seasons I've seen it pull young trees (about 20-30 feet tall and trunk diameter of maybe 1-2 inches) flat to the ground and kill them. This weekend I discovered a mature natural rose bush, that bloomed beautifully each year, completely dead from the greenbriar. Everything I've read indicate that it is difficult to kill off, besides the vine is sprouting from the ground every 2 ft or so. There are way too many to cut, dig up, or individually treat. I've read this plant is a friend to many birds and animals, but it's an enemy to any young tree or bush that can't fight off it's smothering. I am really sad to think the woods will someday be gone and since Greenbriar grows soo quickly, it may be sooner than later. :(

Negative kimma On Mar 4, 2009, kimma from Decatur, GA (Zone 7b) wrote:

I've been fighting this thorny, invasive vine in our yard for years with round-up. I finally started digging up the roots, which are tuberous, and they are humongous - bigger than potatoes, in endless families in my yard, often tangled with the roots of desirable plants. I'm sure I've already dug up 10 pounds of root. The roots are flesh colored inside, and some of them have red wounds on the edges, maybe from previous round up applications, that contribute to the animal-not-plant feel of these roots. This thing feels like pure evil, it's freaking me out. The vines are super thorny and painful even when they're the diameter of a sewing needle, and the roots have hard spindly curved growths that look very much like claws digging into the earth.

Negative ncdirtdigger On Jan 4, 2009, ncdirtdigger from Waxhaw, NC wrote:

I hate this stuff. Very difficult to remove and/or kill. I have had some success using a 10% solution of brush killer applied to the waxy leaves but it takes several seasons to kill. I fight this stuff, poison ivy and asian honeysuckle in my woods. Be sure to wear heavy clothing, thick gloves and eye protection when dealing with it.

Negative kjay On Sep 24, 2008, kjay from Helotes, TX wrote:

We have an unused portion of our garden in south Texas that we allowed to remain native. I recently decided to clean it up a bit, but found that Greenbrier had taken up residency. What alarmed me initially, was that some visiting friends heard a dog whining from the area, and found a small pet dog that had gotten totally stuck in the briars. Would have died there if they had not heard it. It grows like a thorny curtain, and is extremely difficult to work with, especially if you're trying to get rid of it. The best way I've found to eradicate it is to cut each stalk a few inches from the ground with a clipper, and immediately treat the cut with Green Light "Cut Vine & Stump Killer." It is tedious, but it seems to work in the long run.
4/19/2009 Update: I've now had the chance to see if my labors last year paid off, and it looks like it has. Last year, I cut each stalk about an inch or two from the ground and treated each with the "Cut Vine & Stump Killer." Of the hundreds of stalks that I treated, very few have shown any life this Spring. Those that peak their heads up get the same treatment. I think that treating all of the stalks as I did probably killed the whole root system. Anyway, it is now down to a much more manageable activity.

Neutral podster On Jan 18, 2008, podster from Deep East Texas, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I am ambivilant about this plant. The thorns are vicious and the plant sends up volunteers readily. I have had thorn puncture wounds become infected easily. I consider it an invasive and keep it cut back in yard and garden.

The upside is the new growth is appreciated by deer. I have submitted a photo of a large root system for the PlantFiles. The thorny vines can present a deterent to trespassers. The common name for this vine is the "wait a minute" vine. When one gets tangled up in it, you holler "wait a minute" !

Local lore has it that these brier clusters of roots can grow quite large. I have submitted a photo of a large root system for the plant files. In early days, the locals would dig up these roots, cure them and hollow out a bowl for a brier pipe. For the pipe stem, they would use smaller bamboo reed. I have submitted a photo of a large root system for the plant files

Negative lrayhon On Oct 18, 2007, lrayhon from Lewes, DE wrote:

I have a small wooded area next to my lawn in Lewes Delaware. The greenbrier mixed with poisoned ivy and wild grape have taken over the area, making it unwalkable. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to clean it up? Other than a bulldozer!


Negative frogarea On Aug 6, 2007, frogarea from Bridgeport, CT (Zone 6b) wrote:

This plant is very invasive in my area. It grows on and eventually chokes out everything around it. I would like to know how to eradicate it completely. I tried Weed-B-Gone in a spray bottle and just sprayed the stem so the liquid ran down the stem into the base hoping to get the root. No such luck. Now I patrol my gardens every few days and cut back to the ground any stems I see. If someone has a surefire way of getting rid of it, please post.

Neutral Sherlock_Holmes On Jul 14, 2007, Sherlock_Holmes from Millersburg, PA (Zone 6a) wrote:

Greenbrier is considered an edible wild plant, but for obvious reasons, I have not yet tried to test their edibility. I plan to in the future, though.

"Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America" by Fernald & Kinsey states...

"Uses: Breadstuff, soup, cooling drink, jelly as asparagus, salad.

"...The widely distributed Cat-briers, S. rotundifolia and S. glauca, have long, whitish, cord-like rootstocks becoming several feet in length and on open sandy pond-shores they are readily secured. Soon after exposure to the air they become by oxidation a reddish color, like the flour described by Bartram. It is not absolutely necessary to powder the roots in order to make jelly from them. In our own experiments we simply cut the rootstocks into fine pieces, covered them with cold water and boiled for an hour, the water becoming dark-colored. This colored water was strained off, boiled again for a few minutes with sugar, when the syrup jelled. With an equal bulk of sugar the jelly on cooling became a firm sugary paste resembling gumdrops, while half the bulk of sugar gave a soft jelly. The jelly is of good flavor, somewhat flat but slightly bitter-aromatic and intensely sweet, that from S. rotundifolia tea-colored, from S. glauca honey-colored. Mixed with water the jelly makes a palatable, sweet drink.

The tender young shoots and unrolling leaves of the Cat-briers are slightly acrid and the young leaves of S. rotundifolia are a familiar nibble among children under the name "Bread-and-Butter". The vigorous, leading shoots, which abound in the spring and early summer and may be gathered in decreasing quantity throughout the summer, make a delicious vegetable. Care should be taken to pick only the stronger shoots, which are tender for a length of 3 to 6 inches. These eaten raw, taking care to use only the very tender tips, or boiled in salt water, drained and allowed to cool and then dressed with a French dressing make a tempting salad. The salad prepared from the shoots of S. rotundifolia strongly suggests in flavor Alligator Pear; that from S. glauca is less attractive, having a mild bitter-aromatic flavor. The new shoots of other species are worth trying."

"The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America: Nature's Green Feast" by Francois Couplan, Ph.D. says...

"The young, tender roots were eaten after boiling or roasting. Starch was frequently extracted from older roots. They were chopped up, pounded, mixed with water and strained over a container. After a while the starch settled to the bottom. It was gathered by carefully pouring off the water and was then dried and ground into flour. Greenbrier starch is reddish in color. A small amount of it mixed with hot water produces a jelly to which honey can be added to improve taste. If more water is used, the mixture makes a pleasant drink. The starch can also be used a a soup thickener or mixed with cereal flour and made into cakes and breads.

The roots themselves served to make the original root beer. A piece of the fresh root boiled in water yields a reddish tea. Greenbrier roots were called "contichatie" (red flour root) by Florida Indians, for whom it was an important food item. The young shoots of most our species are edible raw or cooked. They generally have a pleasant, mild taste somewhat reminiscent of asparagus; sometimes they have a slightly acid flavor. But in some cases the shoots are bitter and require cooking, possibly in a change of water."

Negative NCmagnolia On May 5, 2007, NCmagnolia from Swansboro, NC (Zone 8b) wrote:

I live on the North Carolina coast and this plant grows everywhere there. It spreads both by seed and by underground runners and doesn't care what kind of soil or water it has. It is considered almost as bad as kudzu. Anyone who grows a garden here will have to cope with this noxious and very invasive weed.

Neutral KashtanGeorge On Nov 7, 2006, KashtanGeorge from Sochi
Russia wrote:

There are two kind of such vines in my area in Sochi. The one that especially tormenting while my walks in the Relict Kolhidian forest has red colored berries, though. These vines are tipical, along with ivy, and they are evergreen here.
But they give the great deal of pain while trying to get rid of them from the land near my house.

Neutral JaxFlaGardener On May 22, 2006, JaxFlaGardener from Jacksonville, FL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I'll give this plant a "Neutral" because it is a native plant and surely has its place within the ecosystem for providing food, shelter, or other positive benefits for the creatures, other than humans.

I once almost put an eye out by pulling a long section of this vine from the top of a tree while standing on the ground. The tree limb tip broke off with the vine and came straight down, like a falling arrow, and pierced my forehead just above my right eye. So here is a note you might not otherwise consider -- wear eye protection goggles when pulling it out of tree tops.

Perhaps one positive note is that the tips of the young, green shoots are edible and have a flavor somewhat like asparagus. I snap off the tips in the Springtime and chew them while working in my garden (prior to trying to locate the tubers that look like gnarled, horrific sweet potatoes and digging them out).


Negative Farmerdill On May 21, 2006, Farmerdill from Augusta, GA (Zone 8a) wrote:

The greenbriar grows like kudzu and is a lot more difficult to control. I t forms huge underground root masses that will sustain sprouts for years. A mature plant can send vines 30 to 40 feet up into a tree in a single year. It makes good wild life habitat in waste places, but it is a pain elsewhere.

Negative sterhill On May 8, 2006, sterhill from Atlanta, GA (Zone 7b) wrote:

I hate this plant - it is hard to eradicate, has sharp stickers and long and heavy underground runners. I cannot imagine giving this plant any space. I pull and cut it anywhere I find it.

Good to now know the name of it.

Positive melody On May 7, 2006, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:

In a woodland setting, where native plants were used, this vine will be right at home. Everything has it's place, and this would not be an appropriate plant for a cultivated garden.

It scrambles for many feet up into trees and along the ground. The briers are hard to see and could be uncomfortable if one was caught up in them. However, it doesn't seem harmful or invasive and adds to the richness of a wild, understory planting. (I even keep a bit of Poison Ivy around too because I like the Fall color)

With careful pruning, it will make a loose shrub, but it's nature is to climb.


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

Bridgeport, Connecticut
Wilton, Connecticut
Bartow, Florida
Daytona Beach, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Alma, Georgia
Augusta, Georgia
Decatur, Georgia
Monroe, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Benton, Kentucky
Halifax, Massachusetts
Mashpee, Massachusetts
South Harwich, Massachusetts
Anoka, Minnesota
South Sioux City, Nebraska
Clayton, North Carolina (2 reports)
Henderson, North Carolina
Raleigh, North Carolina
Smithfield, North Carolina
Swansboro, North Carolina
Waxhaw, North Carolina
Wilsons Mills, North Carolina
Glouster, Ohio
Greencastle, Pennsylvania
Millersburg, Pennsylvania
Conway, South Carolina
Smoaks, South Carolina
Dickson, Tennessee
Fairview, Tennessee
Brookeland, Texas
De Leon, Texas
Helotes, Texas
Plano, Texas
Shelbyville, Texas
Willis, Texas
Woodville, Texas
Radford, Virginia
Troy, Virginia

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