This is an interesting looking vine with an annual climbing stem up to 2 m tall that grows in the spring from a thick tuber. Dioecious; the spherical umbels of green, small flowers are followed by ornamental blue berries in spherical clusters, hanging from the stems until late in the winter – its most attractive feature. The flowers are bad scented attracting their pollinators: carrion flies, hence the common name, but nothing too bad. On the whole, not an ‘attractive’ plant but certainly one that would draw questions about its identity!
Medicine and folklore: The roots were used mostly for digestive and urinary problems. The Chippewa name translates as “bear root”, and it is said that medicine men would always carry the root of this plant in a bag made of bear paws. All Smilax species, collectively known as sarsaparilla have been investigated for the medicinal uses of their rhizomes.
Germination: difficult for all Smilax species, and usually expected to happen in the second year after sowing. Not many studies have been conducted; in one case, germination increased to about 50% when seeds were ingested by birds, which indicates that the seed coat needs to be ‘soften’. Treatments such as scarification, chipping, peroxide soaking, all work well in this regard, followed by cold-moist stratification.