Everyone that has walked off the beaten trail has probably had an unfortunate run in with sawbriar (Smilax glauca). It’s the woody green vine that wraps around your leg and proceeds to slice into your skin with sharp thorns.
There are several species of sawbriar (also called catbriar or greenbriar) growing in our area, and all have the same general characteristics: a woody vine with a very thorny stem and shiny, lance shaped leaves with parallel veins. The vines climb up onto other vegetation by means of tendrils, and some can grow up into fairly tall trees. Most stay down at that critical ankle to waist high level and lay in wait for unsuspecting humans.
To be such an intimidating plant, it is surprising how many wildlife species use it as an emergency food source when times are lean. In the fall and lasting well into winter, the vine produces clusters of blue to black berries that are consumed by a number of birds, including the mockingbird, robin, grouse, catbird, and wood duck. The leaves and stems are browsed by black bear, raccoon, rabbit, and especially deer. Sawbriar rates as one of the most important secondary foods for southern white tailed deer. They must have one tough mouth.
It’s not hard to locate sawbriar, but you’re more likely to find it in disturbed places such as timber harvest areas, abandoned farm land, power line right of ways, and fence rows. This is also where you’ll find rabbits, quail, and other small wildlife species, which use sawbriar and other low vegetation as cover from predators.
Sawbriar has an important role to play in our woods, but it’s hard for me to remember that when I’m trying to free my pants leg from the cussed stuff with as little loss of blood as possible.