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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Insects, weather, fish, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
Anyone who ventures into the woods of the eastern US is likely to be familiar with greenbrier (frequently spelled greenbriar). The scientific genus name is Smilax. According to the USDA, 26 species are found in the United States. Worldwide, more than 300 species have been identified.

Why do so many of us know about greenbrier? It's because greenbrier will literally grab your attention. And your clothes. And your skin. Common names such as catbriar, horsebriar, bullbriar, and sawbriar attest to its thorny nature.

greenbriar stem

Perhaps we should start underground and work our way up towards the treetops. If you have ever clipped greenbriers, only to see them flourish year after year, you need only to observe the roots to see why.

greenbrier tubers
A small seedling might have a root the size of a pea. But as the years go by, greenbriers build up a massive system of underground tubers. This example from my backyard is of modest size; they can be much larger. Note the white tuber on the right with the pointed shoot. That's the newest addition to the root system.

Young plants will crawl along the ground until they locate a host plant to climb. Older greenbrier plants are capable of sending shoots several feet straight up, making it easier to find something to grab.

greenbrier on ground
Note the coiled tendril in the center of this image. Greenbriers use the tendrils to make first contact with a shrub or tree. As it winds its way through the host plant, the weaving and the thorns also help to hold the vine in place.
greenbrier leaves
greenbrier stem
This larger stem gives a close up view of the tendril (and the thorns, too). This is a forester's-eye view of greenbrier. It pays to keep your eyes open at all times, searching for hazards near and far. If you spend too much time looking into the distance to make sure Bigfoot isn't stalking, the Smilax vines can put you firmly in their grasp.

Fun fact: If you're trapped by a greenbrier vine, you cannot break it by pulling against it. Brute force only makes the thorns dig deeper. But the small vines can be easily snapped in two with your fingers. Sometimes I carry a small set of pruning shears in my vest pocket, so that I can cut my way through thickets without being badly mangled.

When the greenbriers are as thick as in the picture below, the only prudent action is to take an alternate route. They own that spot of real estate. Resistance is futile.

greenbrier thicket
The greenbrier fruit is classified as a berry. Apparently it is not a favorite food of birds, but they will eat it. The undigested seeds are dispersed far and wide. I see dozens of new greenbrier plants in my yard every year.
greenbrier berries
Many Smilax species are evergreen. Eventually, the older leaves find their way to the forest floor.
fallen greenbrier leaf
One last image of our thorny woodland friend. While the massive stems make the scariest pictures, it's the small ones, camouflaged against the background of innocuous shrubs, that will do most of the damage. If you're inclined towards having nightmares, don't let this be the last diary you read before going to bed tonight. Sweet dreams!
large greenbrier stem

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 10:01 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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