Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Bristly Greenbrier - Smilax hispida   Rafinesque
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Section 5 » Family Smilacaceae
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DistributionPresent over all of the mountains, and scattered over all of the Piedmont. Present but scattered in the western and central Coastal Plain, but absent in most northeastern counties. The distribution as shown in RAB (1968) greatly understates the current range or abundance; it likely was overlooked in that era, as it seems unlikely to have greatly spread in the past decades.

A wide range from NY, Ontario, and SD south to southern FL and central TX. It has been recorded from nearly all counties in Midwestern states south to LA and east to PA.
AbundanceFairly common to common in the mountains. Fairly common (at least locally) in the Piedmont and western Coastal Plain. Rather rare to rare in the central Coastal Plain, and very rare in the eastern counties, where probably absent in several of them.
HabitatThis is a species of rich soil, often circumneutral to only slightly acidic, in bottomland forests and rich cove forests. It may occur in drier portions of swamps, but only in brownwater swamp soils. It is scarce in blackwater swamps and pocosins/bays. It normally does not occur on upland sites. Thus, it has narrower habitat preferences than nearly all other Smilax vine species.
PhenologyBlooms in late April and May, and fruits from September to November.
IdentificationThis is a moderately high-climbing woody vine with deciduous leaves. It can immediately be identified by the very numerous narrow black bristles or spines on the lower portions of the stem; the remainder of the stem is often unarmed. The thin and dark green leaves are shiny above and below, appearing evergreen; they are ovate in shape, averaging a bit narrower (and darker green) than those of the similar S. rotundifolia, and the leaves are very finely serrate on the margins, practically not noticeable to the observer. In addition, the mainly five veins seem to be more strongly indented and thus appear more obvious than on the other, more common, species. This is another somewhat unfamiliar greenbrier to inexperienced biologists, clearly overlooked by observers in the mid-20th Century as S. rotundifolia. Check the lower part of the stems of these two species, to see if they are strongly “bristled” or not.
Taxonomic CommentsAt times has been named as S. tamnoides, and many references likely still use this name. Weakley (2020) credits var. australis to NC, but says that the status of the variety is "under study"; Taxon Editors will await those results before adding it.

Other Common Name(s)Hellfetter
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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