Smilax australis

barbed wire vine


Smilax australis

R.Br. 1810

pronounced: SMY-laks oss-TRAH-liss

(Smilacaceae — the smilax family)

synonym — Smilax latifolia

R.Br. 1810

pronounced: SMY-laks lat-ee-FOH-lee-uh

common names: barbed wire vine, austral sarsaparilla, wait-a-while

native 4Smilax (σμιλαξ) was the Greek name for a scratchy plant, possibly bryony (Bryonia dioica); australis is Latin for ‘south’. In the synonym, latifolia is from the Latin latus, wide, and folium, a leaf.

This vine is endemic to Australia, occurring in wet sclerophyll forest, and in lowland, upland and mountain rainforest, mainly across the top end. The plant pictured grows in the remnant rainforest at the end of Mandalay Avenue in Nelly Bay.

It is a robust thorny climber, a slender vine with a stem not exceeding 2 cm in diameter, and up to 8 m in length. The twigs and branches are usually clothed in short spines. These spines are only up to about 2 mm long, but are quite strong and sharp, capable of piercing the skin.

The leaves are lanceolate to broad-elliptic or ovate, the blades about 7 - 15 cm long by 4 - 9 cm wide, the apex acute or rounded and emarginate, with petioles up to 2 cm long, with stipules attached. These stipules are about 7 mm long, but are often extended to form much longer tendrils, up to about 20 cm. The leaf blades are usually 5-veined, but sometimes 7-veined. New leaves are salmon-coloured.

The vine is dioecious. The yellowy-green inflorescence is axillary, in simple or compound umbels. The male flowers have pedicels about 9 mm long, sepals 5 - 6 mm long, petals 4 - 5 mm long, and 6 stamens. The female flowers have pedicels 7-8 mm long, sepals about 5 mm long, petals about 4 mm long, and fine, hair-like staminodes.

Globular fruits are produced, black when ripe, up to 9 mm in diameter, on a slender stalk up to 15 mm long. There are 1 or 2 seeds per fruit, tick-shaped, flattened on one side.

The ripe fruits were eaten raw as ‘bush tucker’ by the indigenous peoples, and the older stems used for firesticks. A medicinal tea was made from the leaves.

Among the Lepidoptera larvae that feed on the plant are:

      • the Cephanes Blue Pseudodipsas cephenes;
      • the moth Plusiodonta coelonota;
      • the Dark Forest Blue Pseudodipsas eone; and
      • the Coral Jewel Hypochrysops miskini.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay 2013-2014
Page last updated 5th April 2019