Coastal Carrion Flower

Smilax pseudochina L.

Smilax pseudochina drawing from USDA-NRCS PLANTS
Britton and Brown 1913

Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
Smilacaceae (Greenbrier Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently or Demonstrably Secure globally - Uncommon to common in the world, but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either G4 or G5.


Did you know?

This plant was named after the Asian species Smilax china (China-root) because it has similar characteristics and is used medicinally as the medicine sarsaparilla (Fernald 1950). There are 4 times as many species of Smilax in China than all of the US and Canada (Wikipedia contibutors). There is a Greek myth about the story of the mortal Crocus being seduced by the forest nymph Smilax (Mifsud 2010).

State Ranking Justification

There is one existing population without information about its quantity or quality. There are four populations from the late 1800s to 1931 that need to be resurveyed to see if they still exist. There are five populations that no longer exist because their habitat has been destroyed.

Short-term Trends

The short-term trend is unknown.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend is strongly negative. Even though this plant has always been very rare in New York, only one population currently remains from the nine that existed during the last 100 years.

Conservation and Management


More survey work is needed to determine threats.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

More survey work is needed to identify the management needs of this species.

Research Needs

Propagation studies should be done to see if the population can be augmented.



The single occurrence is located in damp pine barrens in a park preserve along a watercourse through a suburban area. A historical record grew in abundance on the banks of a brook on Staten Island (New York Natural Heritage Program 2012). Moist or wet low places on the coastal plain (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Bogs, wet woods, and marshes (FNA 2002).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Pitch pine-oak forest (guide)
    A mixed forest that typically occurs on well-drained, sandy soils of glacial outwash plains or moraines; it also occurs on thin, rocky soils of ridgetops. The dominant trees are pitch pine mixed with one or more of the following oaks: scarlet oak, white oak, red oak, or black oak.


New York State Distribution

This vine grows only in Nassau County, Long Island. There are a couple of historical records from Staten Island which are probably extirpated.

Global Distribution

This vine grows on the Atlantic coastal plain from Long Island south to South Carolina with scattered populations west to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Identification Comments

General Description

False China-Root is an herbaceous, annual vine that reaches up to 2 meters in height by climbing on the surrounding vegetation. The stems are smooth and not prickly. There are many leaves along the stem and most of them have tendrils at the base that help the plant climb. The leaf blades are 5-12 cm long, thin and hairless, green above and whitish below. The larger ones have wider rounded bases with concave sides and are slightly heart-shaped at the petiole. The tips are rounded with a short point. The two or three long flower peduncles arise from the base of the leaf and are longer than the leaf petioles and sometimes about as long as the leaf. They are round in cross-section. The round flower cluster at the top of the peduncle contains 10-30 green flowers with tiny sepals and petals both 1.5-2.5 mm long. The berries are blue to black with a white waxy covering and 4-6 mm in diameter (FNA 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Distinguishing characteristics: stems herbaceous, annual, unarmed; upper bracts at base of stem gradually changing to foliage leaves, the lowest leaves distinctly smaller and narrower than those above; fully developed leaves green on both sides, more or less deltoid-ovate or panduriform, the blade with 3 prominent nerves running into the abruptly bent or twisted tip; leaf margins straight or concave; pedicels 3-10 (-15) mm long, arising from the axis of foliage leaves; tendrils present; tepals 1.5-2.5 mm long; filaments shorter than to about equaling anthers; styles slenderly clavate; berries blue to black, with sweet and date-like pulp. Best life stage for ID: in fruit or flower. Characteristics needed to ID: stem with leaves and fruit or flowers.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

This vine can be identified vegetatively with leaf characters but is best seen in flower and/or fruit.

Similar Species

Smilax herbacea and Smilax pulverulenta are the other two herbaceous species of Smilax lacking prickles. Their leaf margins are convex instead of concave and the flower petals are larger, 3.5-5 mm. Smilax pulverulenta has leaf blades with dark green undersides covered with transparent hairs. Both species have flat flower peduncles instead of round ones. The fruits look similar. All other species of Smilax are woody perennials with prickles (FNA 2002).

Best Time to See

Flowers mid-June to early July, fruits mature July to mid-August.

  • Vegetative
  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Coastal Carrion Flower vegetative, flowering, and fruiting in New York.

Coastal Carrion Flower Images


Coastal Carrion Flower
Smilax pseudochina L.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
        • Order Liliales
          • Family Smilacaceae (Greenbrier Family)


  • Smilax tamnifolia Michx.
  • Smilax tamnoides L. [Misapplied to New York specimens.]

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2002. Flora of North America, North of Mexico. Volume 26. Magnoliophyta: Liliidae: Liliales and Orchidales. Oxford University Press, New York. 723 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York

Zaremba, Robert E. 1991. Corrections to phenology list of April 9, 1991.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Stephen M. Young

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 20, 2012

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Smilax pseudochina. Available from: Accessed April 17, 2024.