SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Sullivan, Janet. 1994. Smilax bona-nox. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for saw greenbrier is Smilax
bona-nox L. (Smilacaceae, formerly Liliaceae) [12,16,19,30,41].
The following varieties are recognized by various authors:
S. b. var. bona-nox
S. b. var. hastata (Willd.) DC [12,30,41]
S. b. var. exaruiculata Fern. [12,41]
S. b. var. hederaefolia (Beyrich) Fern. [12,30,34,41]
S. b. var. littoralis Coker 
Throughout this write-up, the term 'greenbrier' will be used to refer to
cases where other Smilax species are treated with saw greenbrier, or
where Smilax species are undifferentiated.
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
The range of saw greenbrier extends from Florida to Texas and eastern
Mexico, north to Maryland, Kentucky, southern Indiana, southern
Illinois, Missouri, and southeastern Kansas [12,16,17,34].
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
AL AR FL GA IL IN KS KY LA MD
MS MO NC OK SC TN TX VA MEXICO
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K081 Oak savanna
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K084 Cross Timbers
K089 Black Belt
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
K116 Subtropical pine forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
52 White oak - black oak - northern red oak
53 White oak
62 Silver maple - American elm
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
73 Southern redcedar
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine - oak
78 Virginia pine - oak
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
87 Sweetgum - yellow-poplar
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
89 Live oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
93 Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
97 Atlantic white-cedar
102 Baldcypress - tupelo
103 Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
110 Black oak
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Saw greenbrier occurs in a wide variety of habitat and community types,
and is not characteristic of any particular conditions. Its most common
understory associates include muscadine grape (Vitus rotundifolia),
Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), trumpetcreeper (Campsis
radicans), peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea), Alabama supplejack
(Berchemia scandens), and eastern poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
The fruits of saw greenbrier are eaten by wood ducks, ruffed grouse,
wild turkeys, fish crows, black bears, opossums, raccoons, squirrels,
and many species of songbirds . White-tailed deer browse the foliage
The commonly low and straggling growth form of saw greenbrier tends to
form an impenetrable mass of prickly branches, which creates good cover
for small mammals and birds . In Kansas, an increase in the numbers
of white-footed mice was associated with an increase in woody and weedy
species (including saw greenbrier); the increase in mice was attributed
to increased low cover. The mice were rare on the study site prior to
the loss of an American elm overstory due to Dutch elm disease .
Saw greenbrier is palatable browse for white-tailed deer .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Saw greenbrier occurred on unreclaimed lignite surface mine sites in
east-central Texas. It was recorded on 15-, 30-, and 50-year-old sites
and in adjacent undisturbed forest. Its highest frequency occurred in
undisturbed forest sites .
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Saw greenbrier productivity in the understory of a loblolly pine
plantation was highest under medium thinning intensities . Closed
canopy plantations produced little browse .
Saw greenbrier is considered a pest species in some areas; it is
difficult to eradicate due to its persistent woody rhizome . It is
resistant to most herbicides, but can be controlled with karbutilate .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Saw greenbrier is a native, evergreen  to semievergreen  or
deciduous , rhizomatous liana up to 26 feet (8 m) in length . The
quadrate stems and branches have scattered to numerous stiff prickles
[7,12]. There are two forms of rhizomes: ligneous, thickened, knotty
tubers 0.8 to 2.4 inches (2-6 cm) thick in clusters up to 7.9 inches (20
cm) across , and more slender rhizomes which give rise to the erect
stems [7,12,16,23]. The inflorescence is an umbel borne on an axillary
peduncle. The fruit is a one-seeded drupe .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Saw greenbrier reproduces by seed and by rhizomes. The seeds are
animal dispersed and can be carried long distances by birds .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Saw greenbrier occurs in a variety of habitats, including dry and wet
woods, thickets, and hammocks, and disturbed sites such as clearings,
roadsides, fencerows, and old fields. It tolerates a wide variety of
soils, including dry to moist sands, rocky soils, rich loams, and
saturated swamp soils high in organic matter [7,10,12,16,34,41].
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Facultative Seral Species
Saw greenbrier is often found in early seres and disturbed sites. It is
listed with other plants characterized as early arrivals following
disturbance . In sand dune succession of barrier islands off North
Carolina, several vines successively colonize inland dunes: Virginia
creeper, eastern poison-ivy, and saw greenbrier . Saw greenbrier was
reported from years 0 to 10 in oldfield succession in Georgia, but was
not discussed for later stages and the authors implied that the early
colonizers were crowded out by Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
and other species . Saw greenbrier was the most widely distributed
and abundant vine on a 3-year-old gravel pit in eastern Texas. It was
present in successively lower numbers on a 5-year-old gravel pit, a
47-year-old gravel pit, and the adjacent unexcavated forest .
In Kansas, loss of American elms (Ulmus americana) to Dutch elm disease
further opened an already open canopy and created conditions where cover
values of woody and weedy species increased, including that of saw
In Florida, saw greenbrier occurred in a stand composed of large, old
trees (mostly laurel oak [Quercus laurifolia], pignut hickory [Carya
glabra], and magnolia [Magnolia grandiflora]) with no evidence of past
fire, logging, or grazing .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Saw greenbrier flowers from April to May [17,19,30], April to June ,
or May to July  depending on latitude. The fruit ripens from
September to October, persisting on the vine through the winter [7,19,34].
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Saw greenbrier is tolerant of periodic fire because it will sprout from
the rhizomes when top-killed. It is not dependent on fire for
regeneration; it occurs in both fire-tolerant communities and
communities which infrequently experience fire. Saw greenbrier occurs
in the pine flatwoods of the lower Atlantic Coastal Plain, which were
historically maintained in open condition by periodic fire, and are now
managed with prescribed fires . Similarly, it is often found in
longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) communities which were also historically
maintained by fire. Longleaf pine communities have largely been
replaced by other communities, mostly loblolly pine, which can also be
managed with prescribed fire . Saw greenbrier is a member of
Florida bay swamps, which experience fire on the average of once per
Where saw greenbrier occurs on Cumberland Island, Georgia, its
distribution is probably only partly affected by fire. The scrub and
marsh communities on Cumberland Island historically experienced
wildfires approximately every 20 to 27 years. Oak (Quercus
spp.)/saw-palmetto (Serenoa repens) communities are vulnerable to fires
burning into them from adjacent scrub or marsh. Greenbriers occurred on
forested sites, decreased at forest/marsh and forest/scrub
interfaces, and were not present in interior marsh and scrub sites. The
authors concluded that the marsh/forest and scrub/forest boundaries are
controlled by fluctuation in the water table and not by fire .
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page
under "Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Saw greenbrier is probably top-killed by most fires and subsequently
sprouts from the rhizomes. Mortality due to a winter prescribed fire in
Texas ranged from 11 percent to 31 percent for most understory plants,
including saw greenbrier .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
In Oklahoma, a post oak (Quercus stellata)-blackjack oak (Quercus
marilandica) and tallgrass prairie mosaic was subjected to prescribed
fire to determine the response of understory species to fire and timing
of fire. The groundlayer vegetation was dominated by little bluestem
(Schizachyrium scoparium). Saw greenbrier was present only on sites
that were selected to receive prescribed fire in summer (July 1979), and
showed very little difference in cover following the fire .
In Texas, a prescribed fire in March, 1974, consumed 80 to 90 percent of
the previous year's needle and leaf cast and 50 percent of old litter
under a loblolly pine-shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) plantation.
Average saw greenbrier height decreased from 11.8 feet (3.60 m) to 4.79
feet (1.46 m) and the average number of stems per plant increased from
1.47 to 1.62 (measured July 1975) . Also in Texas, prescribed
surface fires were conducted in February, 1982 to assess the response of
vegetation under either Plateau oak (Quercus fusiformis) or post oak. By
July, saw greenbrier had increased in relative dominance and frequency on
both site types . The Research Project Summary, Response of herbaceous
vegetation to winter burning in Texas oak savanna provides information on
postfire response of associated herbaceous species in this study.
In Florida, frequent prescribed fires in longleaf pine-slash pine (Pinus
elliotii) communities have prevented the formation of a hardwood
midstory. Saw greenbrier was the most common vine in these
fire-maintained stands . Also in Florida, longleaf pine-turkey oak
(Quercus laevis) stands were subjected to periodic prescribed fire.
Greenbriers were present in low numbers (15 percent occurrence) and were
subjected to heavy spring browsing (90 percent of twigs browsed=90
percent utilization) on 1-year-old burns. Greenbriers were not reported
from study plots that represented postfire years 2, 3, and 4 .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Since herbicides alone do not control saw greenbrier, prescribed burning
has been suggested to help hold it to desired densities for wildlife
habitat and to improve its browse value . However, in the Cross
Timbers of Oklahoma, herbicides plus annual spring fires had no effect
on saw greenbrier cover .
SPECIES: Smilax bona-nox
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