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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.

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Tuesday - June 13, 2006

From: Hampton, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Vines
Title: Possibility of growing Smilax pumila (Wild Sarsaparilla Vine in Virginia
Answered by: Dean Garrett

QUESTION:

Hello, I am inquiring about a plant my grandmother keeps telling me about. It's called sarasee (sp?). It's supposed to have some medicinal properties like helping with a cold and things of that nature. She lives in Miami, FL and it grows on her fence, she said it's not in season right now. She described it as having leaves and yellow berries (it's red on the inside). Do you know where I could find this plant? I live in VA. Thank you for taking the time to read!

ANSWER:

I'm guessing that your grandmother is growing a species of Smilax commonly called sarsaparilla or sasparilla, probably either the native Wild Sarsaparilla Vine (Smilax pumila) or the cultivated Jamaican Sarsaparilla (Smilax regelii). The roots of these vines were and sometimes still are used as an ingredient in root beer and other beverages, in addition to having a few traditional medicinal uses.

The name sarsaparilla is also used for certain species of Aralia that have been used in herbal medicine, but since your grandmother's plant grows on a fence I'm assuming you're referring to a vine.

Smilax pumila is native no further north than South Carolina, but there may be people who have tried to grow it in your region. Search our National Suppliers Directory under Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida to see if any nurseries carry sarsaparilla vines. A brief search of the plant lists of a couple of Florida nurseries didn't reveal any sarsaparilla, but there are many nurseries in Florida.

 

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