En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
7 ratings

Friday - October 23, 2009

From: Griffin, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Poisonous Plants
Title: Are Smilax species toxic?
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a plant that the agriculture department told me was similax. I have a severe allergic reaction to it, after digging up the roots (potato) and burning them. I had a feeling my lungs inside were on fire. They told me however that there is nothing in this weed that could cause such an allegic reaction. If that is so, why do I start with a rash like poison ivy, next time it is worse and finally we have to keep an epi-pen in my pocket if I am outside working in my flowers or cutting grass. I have made 4 trips to the ER this summer, as in the past 5 yrs.Could you please tell me if the africulure dept is mistaken? Your help is greatly appreciated, as none of the Drs in the ER know what similax, green brier, or cat brier is. Thanks in advance for your help.

ANSWER:

I think you must mean Smilax.  You can see by the distribution maps from the USDA Plants Database that there are several species of Smilax that grow in Georgia.  I suspect that the agriculture department meant one of the following  Smilax bona-nox (saw greenbrier)Smilax laurifolia (laurel greenbrier), Smilax rotundifolia (roundleaf greenbrier), Smilax glauca (cat greenbrier), Smilax smallii (lanceleaf greenbrier), Smilax tamnoides (bristly greenbrier) or Smilax walteri (coral greenbrier).

Whichever Smilax species it might be, I could find no entry in any toxic plant database for any species in the genus Smilax.  The Botanical Dermatology Database lists the only possible injury from any Smilax species as being a mechanical injury from the thorns.  Indeed, concoctions of the roots have been used as folk medicines for various skin diseases as well as to make the drink sarsaparilla.  It is also used as a dietary supplement to increase strength in the belief that the body converts it into extra testosterone.

You obviously had a reaction to something but I suspect it was not to the Smilax itself.  As I see it, there are several possibilities:

1)  You came in contact with another plant growing with the Smilax that caused your dermatalogical reaction, e.g., Toxicodendron pubescens (Atlantic poison oak), Toxicodendron radicans (eastern poison ivy), or Toxicodendron vernix (poison sumac).  Breathing smoke from burning Toxicodendron species would cause a reaction in the lungs.

2)  The Smilax that you came in contact with had been treated with some sort of herbicide that caused your reaction.

3)  The agriculture department misidentified the plant and what you had was one of the poison oak/ivy/sumac plants listed above.

If you discover that your plant is, or is mixed in with, poison ivy/oak/sumac, you might like to read about ways to control it.

 

More Poisonous Plants Questions

Could ammonia harm poisonous, non-native oleander in Bay Point CA
December 20, 2009 - Could ammonia harm my Oleander plant? I have been spraying ammonia under it to keep neighborhood cats from using the soil under the plant as a sand box. If so, do you have any suggestions as to what...
view the full question and answer

Removing poison ivy around live oak in Hockley TX
July 02, 2009 - We have a large live oak in our backyard, estimated to be over 100 years old. I am working on clearing out the brush that is under the tree. Can I spray commercially available poison ivy killer in t...
view the full question and answer

Controlling Cnidoscolus texanus (Texas bullnettle)
July 18, 2013 - Hello,I need your help to control some nasty weeds in my yard/pasture. I am an old timer and do not have a picture to include—haven't figured out that part of the camera/phone yet. This weed is a pri...
view the full question and answer

Cutting back non-native oleanders affected by freeze in Austin
January 30, 2010 - After the last hard freeze makes my oleanders look dead. Can I cut them down to the ground this time of year?
view the full question and answer

Evergreen pet-safe shrubs for house and screening in McKinney TX
April 15, 2010 - Looking for shrub, preferably evergreen, to plant near the house that can handle wet ground and is pet (dog, cat, horse) safe. The area became boggy after we had an underground water leak that is now ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center