Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Coral Greenbrier - Smilax walteri   Pursh
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Section 5 » Order Liliales » Family Smilacaceae
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DistributionNearly throughout the Coastal Plain, though no collections yet for some counties. Sparingly west to the eastern Piedmont, with a few records for the western Piedmont. Absent from the Mountains and northwestern Piedmont, except for a record for Henderson County.

A Southern species, primarily of the Coastal Plain. Ranges north to NJ, and south to central FL and eastern TX. Inland, reaches as far north as southwestern TN in the Mississippi Embayment.
AbundanceFairly common to reasonably common in most of the Coastal Plain, common in the Sandhills. Rare in the eastern Piedmont, and very rare in the western Piedmont and eastern edge of the Mountains.
HabitatThis is our most “aquatic” greenbrier, being restricted to areas with shallow water of swamps, beaver ponds, very wet streamhead thickets, and wooded pools. It is generally rooted in shallow water.
PhenologyBlooms in late April and May, and fruits from September to November, and persisting – thankfully – into winter.
IdentificationThis is a slender woody vine, with clearly deciduous leaves, not typically climbing high, but instead more often seen climbing over small trees and shrubs. It is mostly an unarmed species, though a scattering of narrow spines may be present near the base. The leaves are similar to those of S. rotundifolia – being ovate and pointed at the tip. On average, the leaves are a bit narrower than those of the other species. It is easily identified in fall and winter by the bright red berries, which thankfully are retained well after the leaves drop. A bare vine with bright red berries is usually this species, though Coralbeads (Cocculus carolinus) also has red berries, but these are quite glossy and usually do not remain into winter. When the red fruit are not visible, take care separating this from the abundant S. rotundifolia, which usually does not root in shallow water, and which almost always has a number of green thorns scattered along the stems. Smilax smallii can look somewhat similar, but that species has leaves that are tapered/cuneate at the base as opposed to more rounded; by fall, S. walteri leaves start to drop and red berries begin to show, whereas S. smallii is evergreen and does not have red berries.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Red-berried Greenbrier, Red-berried Bamboo
State RankS5
Global RankG5
State Status
US Status
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B.A. SorrieAnother swamp bisected by road, Nov 2009. HokePhoto_natural
B.A. SorrieSwamp edge, May 2009. HokePhoto_natural
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