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Smilax L.

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassLiliopsidaMonocots (plants with a single seed leaf); includes the lily family
SubclassLiliidaeIncludes lilies, orchids, and many others
OrderLilialesIncludes lilies, tulips, trilliums, greenbriars, and others
FamilySmilacaceaeGreenbriar family
GenusSmilaxGreek for “clasping”

About plant names...

Sarsaparilla (Spanish for "little grape vine") is a group of vines of the genus Smilax, native to Honduras and Jamaica, whose extracts have been used to flavor soft drinks or as a medicine. Both Smilax officinalis and Smilax regelii are used, along with other species of this genus. Harvesting of the long tough roots is very labor-intensive. Other varieties of Smilax, such as common greenbrier and smooth carrion flower, are common weeds.

North American wild sarsaparilla is often confused with "real" sarsaparilla. Here are some other sources of confusion:

Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) Short plants, less than 2' high, often found in North American forests, with bare stems topped with leaves in groups of three.
Bristly sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida) A close relative of wild sarsaparilla, but with stems that are covered with bristly hairs; stems of A. nudicaulis are smooth.
Sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis and other species) A vine native to Jamaica, reaching up to 50' in length, with long underground roots that have been used in some soft drinks and for various ailments.
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) An unrelated but highly toxic Skull & Crossbones plant that is vaguely similar in appearance to wild sarsaparilla, and also has leaves in groups of three.
Australian sarsaparilla tree (Alphitonia petriei) A fast-growing evergreen tree with bark and leaves that smell like liniment when rubbed.
Edibility: Several species of Smilax have been used to flavor root beer as well as the soft drink sarsaparilla, a drink that was fairly common when I was a kid, and even more common in the old west. However, the sarsaparilla soft drink was principally flavored by birch oil and sassafras bark. Today the drink is still available in a few places. This is a syrup that can be used to make your own. See also these winemaking recipes.

Smilax L.

Online References:

Google Books

Henriette’s Herbal Homepage (Smilax)

Www.rain-tree.com (Smilax)

Wikipedia (Sarsaparilla)


Smilax description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.

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Smilax L.

Smooth carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) · 5/29/2010 · Maine Audubon Gilsland Farm Audubon Center, Falmouth, Maine
≈ 7 × 9" (18 × 22 cm)

Smilax L.

Common greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) · 7/18/2011 · Sue and Rai’s


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