Smilax herbacea

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

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
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)

Wildlife Value:

Fruits are attractive to birds and provide a valuable winter food source. Flies and beetles are attracted to the scent of the flower to act as pollinators. It’s also attractive to deer, rabbits, and beavers as a dietary staple (which humans may consider to be a pest/problem).

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.


Attracts flies and can smell like rotting meat. 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 name Smilax Herbacea is Greek for both clasping and herbaceous, not woody.

Plants are dioecious so you need a male and female. 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, fragrant perennials.

  • 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 (cover the smell produced)

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