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A curious and interesting genus of mostly climbing plants, some with woody stems, some herbaceous, belonging to a small family allied to the Liliaceae and often included in it. Most of the 300 or so species are tropical or subtropical, and only few of those from temperate regions have become established in gardens. Of the woody-stemmed species there are both evergreen and deciduous as well as intermediate types. Leaves alternate, prominently three- to nine-ribbed, and net-veined between the ribs; from the stalks a pair of tendrils are developed by means of which the slender stems are supported. Stems round or angular, usually prickly, often springing from a fleshy or tuberous root-stock, the sexes usually but not always on separate plants: isolated plants having been known to produce fertile seed. The flowers have little beauty, and are always green or greenish. Fruit a black or red berry.
The chief value of the smilaxes in gardens is in producing rich, graceful masses of handsome foliage. They develop thickets of stems which are constantly being renewed from the base, and are happily placed when they can ramble over a tree-stump or some such support. Seed is rarely seen with us on many of the species, and propagation is best effected by dividing up the plants in spring.
The popular medicine, sarsaparilla, is a product from the root of various tropical American species.
Of the following sorts, S. rotundifolia and S. hispida are the most robust in my experience, but S. excelsa has also been known to make a vigorous tree climber in Surrey; and for the warmer counties, S. aspera, which has a very graceful inflorescence, is to be recommended.