Description & Overview

Carrion-flower is a Wisconsin native perennial vine that dies back to the ground each season. It’s typically found on moist forest edges and climbs on nearby plants or structures with twining tendrils. The 1″ round clusters of green flowers are fly-pollinated. Female plants form spectacular golf ball-sized round clusters of bluish-black fruits.

Core Characteristics

Category: Vine

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 3-10 feet

Mature Spread: Varies

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Vine

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Moist

Flower: Green

Bloom Period: Late Spring to early Fall

Foliage: Green

Fall Color: Yellow-tan

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Pea-sized blue-black berries

Suggested Uses

  • Border (through medium sized shrubs to act as groundcover)
  • Container gardens (again, to act as groundcover or keep the vine contained)
  • Ground cover (for areas where grass can be out of the question, or some color is wanted); just don’t trellis it
  • Urban garden (similar reasoning as espalier, this vine does not take up as much space and can tolerate limited horizontal area as long as there is room for vertical growth)
  • Woodland garden (this native will make a nice addition or climb tree trunks if the garden is near the woods)
Carrion-flower is a Wisconsin native perennial vine that dies back to the ground each season. It's typically found on moist forest edges and climbs on…

Wildlife Value

Carrion-flower attracts small bees, flies, and beetles as these are the insects most likely to be attracted to the smell of carrion. Fly species include Syrphid flies, Muscid flies, flesh flies, blow flies, and mosquitos. Bees will collect both nectar and pollen.

It is a host plant for the Spotted Phosphila Moth (Phosphila miselioides), Turbulent Phosphila Moth (Phosphila turbulenta), and Carrion Flower Moth (Acrolepiopsis incertella).

The Meadow Rue Borer Moth (Papaipema unimodal) will bore into the stems of the plant.

Birds that snack on the berries include the Fox Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Swainson’s Thrush, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Pileated Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, Ruffed Grouse, White-throated Sparrow, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Wild Turkey, Northern Mockingbird, Cedar Waxwing, and Cardinal.

Mammals that will eat the berries include, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and black bears.

Maintenance Tips

They need very little maintenance throughout the winter and spring but require a bit more attention in the summer. There is no pruning necessary other than removing dead stems and flowers that have finished blooming.

Pests/Problems

Attracts flies and can smell like rotting meat and is best grown in a greenhouse or as a houseplant to keep away pests. Red spider mites can be attracted to suffering plants and can simply be wiped off with a damp cotton ball.

Leaf Lore

Native to eastern Canada and the US, this vine is surprisingly cold hardy. Young shoots and leaves are edible and look like asparagus when they first sprout. Fruit can be eaten raw, cooked, or used in jellies, but only consumed when fully ripe. Roots can be cooked or dried.

Softened leaves can be used for healing eye infections, skin eruptions, and wounds, according to Ainu medicine.

The Cherokee use Carrion-flower to treat rheumatism, skin lesions, muscle cramps, burns, kidney and lung troubles, back pain, and as food.

The name Smilax Herbacea is Greek for both clasping and herbaceous, not woody.

Plants are dioecious so you need a male and female to produce fruit. Male and female flowers will not be found on the same plant. We typically don’t sell sexed plants.

Companion Plants

Native Ferns, Lavender, Ornamental Onion, Prairie Dropseed Grass, and fragrant perennials pair well with Carrion-flower.

  • Native ferns (natives grow well together and ferns provide interesting textural contrast)
  • Lavender (fragrant and can cover the smell Carrion-flower produces)
  • Ornamental Onion (similar flowers to provide consistent shape but color variety, fragrant and can cover the smell of Carrion-flower)
  • Prairie Dropseed Grass (natives grow well together, contrasting textures)
  • Fragrant perennials (to cover the smell produced)
Carrion-flower is a Wisconsin native perennial vine that dies back to the ground each season. It's typically found on moist forest edges and climbs on…
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Written by Johnson's Nursery