LILY FAMILY - Liliaceae: Carrion-flower

Smilax herbacea

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 Nebraska.

"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 Birth-root."

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, it has deliberately adapted itself to please its benefactors, the little green flesh-flies so commonly seen about untidy butcher shops in summer.