Powdery Carrion Flower

Smilax pulverulenta Michx.

Smilax pulverulenta plant
Marielle Anzalone

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?

The species name is Latin for powdery and refers to the small hairs on the veins beneath leaves (Fernald 1950).

State Ranking Justification

There are three existing populations but all of them have under 100 plants each. One population from 1916 was rediscovered in the 1990s and one other population from the 1870s needs to be resurveyed. 2 populations known from 1893 and 1919 respectively, no longer exist because their habitat has been destroyed.

Short-term Trends

The short-term trend of existing populations seems to be stable.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend is somewhat negative. This plant has always been very rare in New York and there have been just a few populations documented since the late 1800s. Numbers will continue at low levels for the foreseeable future.

Conservation and Management


Overuse of natural areas from nearby residential developments may threaten these plants.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Natural buffers need to be established around populations in order to prevent direct disturbance.

Research Needs

Some herbarium work is needed to make sure that proper identifications were made to distinguish specimens from the closely related and common Smilax herbacea. More research is needed to determine its habitat preference to better target areas for survey as populations occur in seemingly common habitat.



In New York, two populations occur along the banks of a stream at the base of a slope; one in a shrub tangle of a mesic woods dominated by maples and the other in a rich oak-tulip tree deciduous woods. A third population is in a heavily disturbed successional oak-hickory forest near a playground area, small wetland, and public golf course (New York Natural Heritage Program 2012). Moist soil of open woods, roadsides, and tickets (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Rich woods, thickets, usually in calcareous soils (FNA 2002).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Oak-tulip tree forest (guide)
    A hardwood forest that occurs on moist, well-drained sites in southeastern New York. The dominant trees include a mixture of five or more of the following: red oak, tulip tree, American beech, black birch, red maple, scarlet oak, black oak, and white oak.
  • Red maple-sweetgum swamp (guide)
    A hardwood swamp that occurs on somewhat poorly drained seasonally wet flats, usually on somewhat acidic soils. Red maple-sweetgum swamps often occur as a mosaic with upland forest communities. Sweetgum is often the dominant tree or may be codominant with red maple. Other codominant trees include pin oak and blackgum.

Associated Species

  • Acer nigrum (black maple)
  • Acer rubrum
  • Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)
  • Carya cordiformis (bitternut hickory)
  • Carya glabra (pignut hickory)
  • Eurybia divaricata (white wood-aster)
  • Fagus grandifolia (American beech)
  • Fallopia japonica
  • Lindera benzoin (spicebush)
  • Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet-gum)
  • Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree, tulip poplar, yellow poplar)
  • Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle)
  • Maianthemum canadense (Canada mayflower)
  • Maianthemum racemosum
  • Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stilt grass)
  • Osmunda cinnamomea
  • Polygonatum pubescens (hairy Solomon's-seal)
  • Toxicodendron radicans
  • Viburnum acerifolium (maple-leaved viburnum)


New York State Distribution

This vine is currently known from Staten Island and in the Bronx. Historical records are also known from Manhattan and Westchester County where it is considered extirpated.

Global Distribution

It ranges through the middle part of the eastern United States extending from New York south to Georgia in the East and from Illinois through Missouri and Arkansas to northern Mississippi in the West. There are scattered locations in eastern Kansas just over the border from Missouri and in Nebraska and Minnesota.

Identification Comments

General Description

Downy carrion-flower is an herbaceous, annual vine that reaches up to 2.5 meters in height by climbing the surrounding vegetation. There are many leaves along the stem and most of them have tendrils at the base that help them climb. The leaf blades are broadly to narrowly ovate with convex sides and 8-16 cm long. The undersides are dark green and covered with whitish, transparent hairs mainly along the veins. The base of the larger leaves are heart-shaped and the tips are long pointed. Smaller leaves have a more level base and short pointed tip. 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 flat in cross-section. The round flower cluster at the top of the peduncle contains 10-35 green flowers with tiny sepals and petals both 3.5-5 mm long. The berries, 8-10 mm in diameter, turn from light green to black and are without a white waxy covering (FNA 2002).

Identifying Characteristics

Distinguishing characteristics: bracts basal, abruptly changing to fully developed long-petioled (3-9 cm) ovate leaves; membranaceous blade lustrous green and often with minute whitish pubescence, especially on nerves, beneath, usually with 5 delicate nerves running into the abruptly acuminate plane tip; long peduncled umbel hemispherical on pedicels 5-22 mm long, peduncles 5-10 times as long as the subtending petioles; perianth 4-6 mm long; filaments longer than anthers; styles lingulate; berry black, not glaucous. Best life stage for ID: in fruit or flower. Characteristics needed to ID: stem with leaves.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

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

Similar Species

Smilax herbacea and Smilax pseudochina are the other two herbaceous species of Smilax without prickles. Smilax pseudochina has leaves with leaf margins which are concave instead of convex and the flower petals are larger, 1.5-2.5 mm long. The berries are blue to black with a white waxy covering. Smilax herbacea has hairless and paler undersides. The fruits turn from light green to dark blue with a white waxy covering. All other species of Smilax are woody perennials with prickles (FNA 2002).

Best Time to See

Flowers late April through May, fruits persist through June.

  • Vegetative
  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

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

Powdery Carrion Flower Images


Powdery Carrion Flower
Smilax pulverulenta Michx.

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


  • Smilax herbacea var. pulverulenta (Michx.) Gray

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.

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 http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Stephen M. Young

Information for this guide was last updated on: September 6, 2012

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Smilax pulverulenta. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/powdery-carrion-flower/. Accessed June 21, 2024.