Green Briar – Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em

By: Glynn Harris

A couple of years ago, Kay wanted a flower bed in a certain section of the front yard. The spot was perfect; it would get just the right amount of sunlight and shade for the lantana she had planned for the bed to grow lush and beautiful.

There was only one problem; the area she chose was already occupied. It was wrapped up in saw briars. I was assigned the task of removing the briars to make room for the lantana.

Have you ever tried to get rid of saw briars? You can cut them down to the ground and before long, they take off again. The solution is to dig up the root. Frankly I was shocked when I unearthed the root from the first briar I tackled. It was the size of a volley ball, big and white and almost scary looking.

Eventually, I was able to dig up all the roots and now the little bed is saw briar-free but it took quite an effort to make that happen.

Just exactly what is this plant? It has at least three names. I always called it saw briar while more professional plant gurus refer to it as green briar or if they really want to get fancy, smilax.

If you live anywhere in the country, I’ll bet you have it growing around the margin of your yard. It practically forms a border of my yard and if you happen to walk through a vine, you come out with blood dripping because two of the three names indicate what it is. Briar.

As obnoxious as the plant is to home owners, it’s a super source of protein for wildlife, especially deer.
One night I happened to look out the bedroom window and saw movement beneath the security light in our yard. There stood a doe and she was munching on a strand of saw briar growing there. After she moved on, a second deer came along to clean up the greenery the first deer had left.

I ran across an article recently that was singing the praises of this plant that provides up to 30% protein in spring and 10% in the fall. Many wildlife biologists consider green briar to be one of the most important native plants used by deer. Hunters sometimes manage thickets of the plant growing on their hunting lands since deer relish it as a favorite browse species.

In addition to retaining leaves all year long, the plant produces fruit-like berries consumed by not only deer but a variety of birds and wild turkeys.

Since I have your interest in utilizing green briar as wildlife food, is it possible to transplant it to areas where you hunt? You can’t find a commercial source for the seeds or roots (which technically are called rhizomes) but you can dig up the roots and plant them where you prefer. Most who have tried this method of transplanting find that the relocated plants take off with good results but you need to protect the new growth from over-browsing by deer and rabbits.

Late in deer season after a few freezes have killed most native forage plants making them unpalatable for wildlife, green briar just keeps on keeping on.

One biologist suggested that well-fertilized green briar thickets make good food plots and should be included in a wildlife management plan.

You need some root stock? My wife is eyeing another spot in the yard where she wants a flower bed, a spot wrapped up in briars. You want ‘em? You can have ‘em, just come dig ‘em so I won’t have to.


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