Vicious with thin, needle-like thorns, the green-brier makes a network of entangling vines which are bright green all winter long. Clusters of dark green fruits and a few shriveled leaves still hang on the vines, and the cardinals which live in the woods all winter gather here. In time of snow, the bright colors of the male cardinals and the more muted tones of the females against the snow and the green tangle of vines is a pleasant sight in a land not noteworthy for color in winter. Greenbrier tangles, and cardinals . . . this is one of the pictures of the Illinois winter.
Smilax hispida Muhl.
June. River bottom woods.
Greenbrier is common in the lowlands where it twines into trees and bushes and makes a jungle of prickly vines which live unchanged, except for additional growth, for many years. In the tangles in spring the cardinals build a nest; they eat the green fruits in autumn, find shelter among the vines in winter. In spite of the unpleasantly prickly nature of the brier, it has its place in the efficient plan of the wild.
It is a true smilax. Its green stems are set alternately with ribbed oval leaves, bright green and durable. The flowers which come in late May or early June are in clusters - tiny, six-petaled, green-white blossoms. In spite of their meager appearance, they are a member of the Lily family. The stems are densely thorny from the ground to the top of the stem, though less so on the younger growth. This prevents the greenbrier from being popular as greenery indoors, as its less cantankerous cousin, the southern smilax, is used. Instead, the greenbrier remains in its humid bottomlands and feeds and shelters cardinals all year around.