Excellent Food and Cover

Common Greenbrier (Horsebrier) – Smilax rotundifolia
Saw Brier or Glaucus-leaved Greenbrier – S. glauca
Hispid (Bristly) Greenbrier – S. hispida


Climbing vines with woody stems, armed with spines or prickles, the leaf stems bearing a pair of coiling tendrils that support the vine.

Twigs and Bark

Common – Light green stem, branches 4-angled, straight stout prickles.
Saw Brier – Brownish stem with white coating, many small sharp prickles
Hispid – Dark green stem with numerous long and weak black bristly prickles.


Common – Thick, roundish, shiny, 2 to 5 inches long.
Saw Brier – Thin, roundish, whitish coating beneath, 3 to 6 inches long.
Hispid – Thin, dark green, shiny above and beneath, 3 to 6 inches long.


Common & Saw Brier – Bluish-black with white coating (bloom).
Hispid – Bluish-black berry without white coating.

Natural Habitat

Common and Saw Brier – In thickets, old fields, fencerows and along borders of woodlands. Also in open dry woods.
Hispid – Rich (often alkaline) thickets, open woods and fields.

Wildlife Uses

Very important plants for food and cover. The fruits remain on the plants through winter and become very important in later winter when more desirable fruits are gone. The fruits are eaten by black bear, raccoon, turkey, grouse, catbird, mockingbird, robin and most thrushes. The leaves and stems provide critical food for deer and rabbits.

West Virginia Range

Common – Common throughout WV.
Saw Brier – Common throughout WV.
Hispid – Throughout WV but not common.


Uses: Can be used for dense tangles or barriers. Seldom used because of sharp spines and prickles and the habit of spreading freely from roots.
Light: Full sunlight but hispid greenbrier will grow well in shade.

Soil Moisture

Common – Very adaptable from wet to dry.
Saw Brier – prefers dry soils but will tolerate moist or wet soils.
Hispid – Moist, well-drained.

Soil pH

Common and Saw Brier – Acid to neutral.
Hispid – Neutral to alkaline.

Problems: No known insect or disease problems. Briers can form impenetrable tangles. The stems and branches have scattered spines and prickles.

Compiled by: Linnie Coon, outdoor writer and naturalist, Comfort, West Virginia .

Written by West Virginia Native Plant Society members and jointly published with the WV Wildlife Diversity Program.