Greenbrier

Jan HygnstromGreenbrier

Jan Hygnstrom, UNL Extension, considers a weed to be a plant out of place or where it's not wanted. This month's plant is native to Nebraska, and has some good attributes along with the bad.


Bristly greenbrier leafWhen we work in the woods on our land, one of the plants we most hate to run into is the bristly greenbrier, Smilax hispida. It also is called the prickly catbrier. The plant is a vine, growing over 30 feet long if given the opportunity to climb on trees and shrubs. The 2- to 5-inch leaves are heart-shaped, and tendrils sprout from the leaf axils. The leaves stay green on the vine into early winter, well after other plants have lost their leaves.

The vine does well in light shade to partial sun in woodlands, thickets, openings in woodlands, or on edges of wooded areas. Propagation is through seeds from the fruit, as well as spreading by rhizomes (underground stems).

Thorns of bristly greenbrierMy problem with greenbrier is the thorns, lots of thorns. Young plants or stems may have small green ones or none at all. As the stem ages, large blackish red spines develop. This is the only greenbrier in Nebraska with a perennial woody stem/vine.

The bristly greenbrier is dioecious, meaning a vine will produce all male flowers or all female flowers, and both male and female plants are needed for reproduction. Some types of greenbrier have flowers that smell bad - bad enough to attract flies as pollinators. Flowers of the bristly greenbrier have no noticeable scent. I have yet to see small green to white flowers on our vines, so the greenbrier flowers are on my list of observations for both sight and smell in late spring to early summer.

Fruit of Bristly greenbrierI was searching the internet for some plants that provide food for wildlife, and was amazed to see that one publication actually recommended planting greenbrier! Apparently, deer like to browse on the leaves, and turkeys, pheasants, and other wildlife eat the berries. I must admit the berries are beautiful to look at. The bluish-black berries develop in fall and provide food for a number of creatures. The vine can form dense thickets that provide cover for birds, rabbits, and other animals as well. One source says that the greenbrier may be the briar patch in the Brer Rabbit tale, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. If you ever run into greenbrier thorns, you will understand the story!