Herbs. Stems annual, erect to leaning, with bladeless bracts proximally, leaves distally, 0.3-0.8 m, herbaceous; prickles absent. Leaves mostly distal (upper 1/2-2/3 of plant); petiole thin, shorter than blade; tendrils few and short or absent; blade thin, broadly elliptic-ovate to subrotund, 9-12 × 5-9 cm, pubescent and not glaucous abaxially, base cordate to truncate, margins entire, convex, apex round to acuminate. Umbels 1-3, proximalmost axillary to bracts below leaves, to 25-flowered, hemispherical to globose. Flowers: perianth green; tepals 3.5-4 mm; anthers ± equaling filaments; ovules (1-)2 per locule; pedicel 0.5-1.3 cm. Berries purplish black, globose, 9-11 mm, not glaucous. 2n = 52. Flowering May--Jun. Open woods and thickets; 100--800 m; Ont.; Ark., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., Mich., Minn., Mo., Nebr., Ohio, Okla., S.Dak., Tenn., Wis. Smilax ecirrhata is similar to S. huberi and S. biltmoreana, both with fewer leaves of different shapes.
Perennial herb 30 cm - 0.8 m tall Stem: erect to leaning, unbranched, lacking prickles, with leaves on the upper half to two-thirds of the stem and lance-linear bracts near the base. Leaves: alternate, usually with fewer than twenty crowded on upper part of the stem, thin-stalked, 9 - 12 cm long, 5 - 9 cm wide, narrow to broad egg-shaped with a heart-shaped to squared or rounded base and a rounded tip sometimes having an abrupt point (cusp), margins convex, minutely hairy and pale beneath when young. Flowers: either male or female, found on separate plants (dioecious), borne on an inflorescence with branches radiating from a common point (umbel). The few inflorescences are usually borne axillary to the bracts, each being 5 - 10 cm across, hemispherical to spherical, and having up to 25 flowers with six green tepals 3.5 - 5 mm long. Fruit: a purplish black berry, 9 - 11 mm across, spherical, with three to five seeds. Tendrils: absent or few in upper leaf axils.
Similar species: Smilax ecirrhata, Smilax illinoensis, Smilax herbacea, Smilax lasioneura, and Smilax pulverulenta are herbs without prickles. Smilax herbacea, S. lasioneura, and S. pulverulenta climb to more than 1 m and have many tendrils and umbels. Smilax illinoensis differs by typically having narrower leaves and ten- to 50-flowered umbels that are axillary to the bracts or leaves.
Flowering: late April to late May
Habitat and ecology: Frequent in rich woods.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Etymology: Smilax is the ancient Greek name of an evergreen oak. Ecirrhata means "without tendrils."
Author: The Morton Arboretum
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Probably infrequent to rare throughout the state, although I recall seeing it rather frequently in the Lower Wabash Valley in low woods bordering sloughs, especially in Gibson and Vigo Counties. All of my specimens are from low woods on the flood plains of streams.
Indiana Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 5
Wetland Indicator Status: N/A
Diagnostic Traits: unbranched herbaceous plant usually <0.5 m; prickles lacking; tendrils 0-few; petioles shorter than to as long as blade; lower inflorescences from bladeless bracts, their peduncles shorter than petioles; umbels with <25 flowers.
Herbaceous, unarmed, ±erect, unbranched, to 8 dm, without tendrils, or producing a few from the upper lvs only; lvs few, mostly less than 20, often only 7-9, ±crowded on the upper part of the stem only, narrowly to broadly ovate, truncate to cordate at base, convexly narrowed to a short cusp, hairy beneath; peduncles axillary to lance-linear bracts on the lfless lower part of the stem, or rarely also from the axil of the lowest lf, ascending, 5-10 cm, with few (seldom more than 25) fls; tep 3.5-5 mm; seeds 3-5; 2n=26. Rich woods and thickets; Mich. to Minn., s. to Ky., Mo., and e. Okla. May.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.