(Smilax herbacea) Smilax family

Flowers - Carrion-scented, yellowish-green, 15 to 80 small,

6-parted ones clustered in an umbel on a long peduncle. Stem:

Smooth, unarmed, climbing with the help of tendril-like

appendages from the base of leafstalks. Leaves: Egg-shaped,

heart-shaped, or rounded, pointed tipped, parallel-nerved,

petioled. Fruit: Bluish-black berries.

Preferred Habitat - Moist soil, thickets, woods, roadside fences.

Flowering Season - April-June.

Distribution - Northern Canada to the Gulf States, westward to


"It would be safe to say," says John Burroughs, "that there is a

species of smilax with an unsavory name, that the bee does not

visit, herbacea. The production of this plant is a curious freak

of nature.... It would be a cruel joke to offer it to any person

not acquainted with it, to smell. It is like the vent of a

charnel-house." (Thoreau compared its odor to that of a dead rat

in a wall!) "It is first cousin to the trilliums, among the

prettiest of our native wild flowers," continues Burroughs, "and

the same bad blood crops out in the purple trillium or


Strange that so close an observer as Burroughs or Thoreau should

not have credited the carrion-flower with being something more

intelligent than a mere repellent freak! Like the purple trillium

(q.v.), it has deliberately adapted itself to please its

benefactors, the little green flesh flies so commonly seen about

untidy butcher shops in summer. These, sharing with many beetles

the unthankful task of removing putrid flesh and fowl from the

earth, acting the part of scavengers for nature, are naturally

attracted to carrion-scented flowers. Of these they have an

ungrudged monopoly. But the purple trillium has an additional

advantage in both smelling and looking like the same thing - a

piece of raw meat past its prime. Bees and butterflies, with

their highly developed aesthetic sense, ever delighting in

beautiful colors, perfume, and nectar, naturally let such flowers

as these alone - another object aimed at by them, for then the

flies get all the pollen they can eat. Some they transfer, of

course, from the larger staminate flowers to the smaller

pistillate ones as they crawl over one umbel of the

carrion-flower, then alight on another.

Presently fruit begins to set, and we can approach the luxuriant

vine without offence to our noses. The beautiful glossy green

foliage takes on resplendent tints in early autumn - again with

interested motives, for are there not seeds within the little

bluish-black berries, waiting for the birds to distribute them

during their migration?


rotundifolia), similar to the preceding, except that its

four-angled stem is well armed with green prickles, its beautiful

glossy, decorative leaves are more rounded, and its greenish

flower umbels lack foul odor, scarcely needs description. Who has

not encountered it in the roadside and woodland thickets, where

it defiantly bars the way?

In the most inaccessible part of such a briery tangle, that

rollicking polyglot, the yellow-breasted chat, loves to hide its

nest. Indeed, many birds can say with Br'er Rabbit that they were

"bred en bawn in a brier-patch." Throughout the eastern half of

the United $tates and Upper Canada the catbrier displays its

insignificant little blossoms from April to June for a

miscellaneous lot of flies - insects which are content with the

slightest floral attractions offered. The florist's staple vine

popularly known as "SMILAX" (Myrslphyllum asparagoides), a native

of the Cape of Good Hope, is not even remotely connected with

true Smilaceae.

CAROLINA GRASS OF PARNASSUS CHARLIE facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail