Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Greenbrier in autumn, part 1

with 33 comments

One native plant that’s quite common in central Texas is greenbrier. Its genus name, Smilax, sometimes makes me, a promoter of native plants, want to do anything but smile; and as for its species name, bona-nox, which means ‘good night,’ anyone who has to walk around in the dark on ground where this plant is growing will not have a good night of it. Today’s picture makes clear why I’ve said what I’ve said. And yes, greenbrier is usually green, but here you see a piece of a plant that has dried out and turned tan by late autumn. This picture, taken December 12, comes from the lot on the east side of US 183 south of Braker Lane that has been mostly cleared in preparation for new construction. (This is the lot that has provided pictures for various posts this summer and fall, and along whose western edge the grackles gather at dusk.)

For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern part of the United States where you can have this vine’s thorns tear into your clothing and skin, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM

33 Responses

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  1. Greenbriars are one of my favorite plants to nibble on (new leaves and shoots). Unfortunately, I have yet to find any in NH. I used to find a lot of S. rotundifolia in Virginia (KY too, but back then I didn’t know it was edible). If you’ve never tried one, I highly recommend it!


    December 18, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    • I’ve read that the young shoots are edible, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to trying them. I’m glad you can offer a testimonial.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    • Well, now you’ve gone and made me hungry. We have plenty of S. bona-nox and I know of one place I can find S. rotundifolia. Can’t wait until spring to try some.


      December 19, 2011 at 12:19 AM

  2. What can I say but I love it! I can see this photo in a black metal frame in a minimalist living room.

    Bonnie Michelle

    December 18, 2011 at 6:43 PM

  3. Yes, a truly stunning photo as a piece of art not to mention a botanical.


    December 18, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    • Thanks so much. I’ve photographed green greenbriers many times, but this tan color was new to me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2011 at 8:04 PM

  4. After looking on the USDA site, I can be pretty sure that this is what we call “Saw Vine” here. My first encounter with the evil weed was when I first began gardening here on our property. I innocently reached in bare handed and gave it a good yank… I understand your pain.

    That aside, you have an uncanny way of making even the most evil weed look beautiful in spite of its ugly nature. ~ Lynda


    December 18, 2011 at 10:54 PM

    • Yes, I see that the site of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also refers to this species as saw greenbrier.” I’m sorry that your unsuspecting hand got sawed. After some tangles with the plant (literally), I learned to carry a pair of clippers in my camera bag. Nevertheless, the way the species grows fascinates my visual sense, and I’ve continued photographing it from time to time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 4:47 AM

  5. Ouch! Great photo, but I’m just a happy that we don’t have that one here!


    December 18, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    • Yes, you may be better off without this one. The prickles are sharp enough, but this closeup may make them look even larger and more forbidding than they really are.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 4:50 AM

  6. If I ran into that I wouldn’t have a good night….ouch!


    December 19, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    • No, you wouldn’t. But look at the follow-up I’m about to release and you’ll see a less forbidding aspect.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 5:13 AM

  7. stunning photograph! The simplicity and clarity are amazing. I know this formidable plant well from Big Bend and other wanderings in Texas!


    December 19, 2011 at 10:53 AM

  8. Wow, I see why you say not to walk through fields of greenbrier. Marvelous detail and clarity.


    December 19, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    • One good thing about doing photographs like this is that I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night. This species doesn’t grow in the Northeast, but there are bound to be other botanical hazards up there that you can avoid instead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 2:24 PM

  9. Thanks again for your comment on my blog 🙂 – now I’m here – and I like what I see! This is a great image of this (for me!) special plant. Beautiful – and dangerous!


    December 19, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    • I’m glad you enjoyed your visit from Denmark and that you find the greenbrier a special plant—and that you don’t have to worry about encountering it while walking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 5:47 PM

  10. Ow! This one looks pretty nasty (in its nature) but the photo is wonderful! Do the spines carry or excrete any irritant or poison? Nice capture, Steve!


    December 19, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    • I feel your pain! As far as I know, and unlike the bull nettle that’s also common here, the prickles on greenbrier are strictly mechanical rather than chemical weapons. Glad you like this picture of a formidable plant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 19, 2011 at 8:04 PM

  11. Exxcellent shot! I loved it. Thank you dear Steve, with my love, nia


    December 20, 2011 at 10:45 AM

  12. Of all your greenbrier photos, I find this one the most intriguing. Bear with me…

    I became aware of the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV, during my china-collecting days. When the designer Dorothy Draper was hired to do a restoration of the place after WWII, she carried out a theme called “Romance and Rhododendrons”. Homer Laughlin and other companies produced the china for the place, and some of those rhododendrons landed in my china cabinet.

    In the process, I became interested in the history of the place. From 1961 until its dismantling in 1995 or so,The Greenbrier contained a bunker that would house both the US House and Senate in the event of nuclear war or other national emergency.

    While the hotel became The Greenbrier long before the bunker was built, there’s no question greenbriers are a perfect symbol for what was intended: a prickly, pain-inducing, formidable barrier designed to protect.

    And by the way – wonderful photo!


    December 22, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    • I watched a television program sometime in the last year that told all about that bunker under the hotel, but I forgot about the name Greenbrier until you mentioned it here and pointed out how the plant is the perfect symbol for “a prickly, pain-inducing, formidable barrier designed to protect.” I wonder if the people who decided to put the bunker there knew what a greenbrier is.

      In another comment this week I mentioned that on the one afternoon of my life that I spent in West Virginia, in around 1975, I took black and white infrared photographs along the Greenbrier River. I’m pretty sure that back then I didn’t know what a greenbrier is.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2011 at 6:25 PM

  13. Steve, wow, your greenbrier (photo) has a lot more thorns per linear inch than mine! Perhaps because mine grows in the shade? Thanks for commenting on my photo. Kyle


    January 18, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    • You’re right, this greenbrier did have surprisingly many thorns on it. I don’t know what determines the density of thorns; you may be on to something with the amount of sunlight.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 18, 2012 at 7:57 AM

  14. […] the non-red redbud appear as a backdrop to the red honeysuckle, I had to thread my way through some greenbriers and some stalks of poison ivy that were just beginning to leaf out, then get down low and aim […]

  15. […] nest (presumably a bird’s) in a small tree. The nest was supported by two kinds of vines: greenbrier, Smilax bona-nox, and mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis. Note also the spent pod of a milkweed […]

  16. A pity it wasn’t prickly enough to deter those constructing on the site.


    July 6, 2014 at 7:09 AM

    • For my purposes that’s true enough, though I expect the people in the construction company feel otherwise.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 6, 2014 at 7:58 AM

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