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Has anybody deliberately cultivated Greenbriar (various Smilax species) for the tender shoot tips?

 
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I have a wild plan that I want to try this year.  I'll report back, but I wonder if anybody else has tried it.

One of the best-tasting wild edible greens in the Oklahoma woods in springtime is the new growth on Greenbriars.  This is a vertical-growing vine with sharp barbed thorns, a starchy and vaguely-edible root, and edible but bland berries late in the summer.  There are a bunch of similar Smilax species; I haven't tried to ID this specific one.  

In the spring, new growth on this vine (tendrils at the tip) is extremely tender and sweet and crunchy and tasty.  Flavor somewhat similar to young asparagus.  I never miss a chance to pluck and munch as I walk through the woods, but there's rarely enough to harvest in quantity.  

My thought is to transplant some into a container (I do NOT want these vines growing loose in my yard, but they don't tolerate being mowed so it's no problem) and train them up a trellis.  And then prune them at about head height.  I figure if I keep doing this, they may keep sending up new  shoots until I have a very dense thicket -- enough to harvest a whole salad from at one time.  

I don't know whether I would just get one or two cuttings in spring, or whether, if cut regularly, they would keep trying to put on new growth throughout the summer.  If the latter, this could be a very worthwhile experiment!  (However I doubt this; I've never seen mature vines that have been cut while trail clearing try to send out new shoots in high summer.)

Anybody ever grow Smilax vines deliberately?
 
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Yummy trail snack! Hmmm... With enough pinching back, can a vine be bushy? Or... maybe end up like a stooling. Lots of vines from a single root. the vines do branch... Maybe bury a length of vine, hopefully forcing it to send up verticle branches that become new vines.


Mound layering (also called stooling) is the most important commercial form of layering.
Numerous fruit tree rootstocks, especially apple, are propagated by mound layering.


From here.

Your idea may have just been appropriated.
 
Dan Boone
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It's the case that where one finds this vine in the wild, it usually grows in clusters and clumps ... half a dozen or a dozen stems coming up out of the soil in the same couple of square feet.  I imagine ... without having done the excavation ... that they are coming from the same tuber, or a cluster or clump of tubers.  

What I'm hoping is that by one means or another the density of stems per square foot can be somewhat increased.  It doesn't seem at all far-fetched that repeated mechanical "messing with" the existing vines would cause healthy roots to send up additional shoots ... but that doesn't mean it will actually happen.
 
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Dan, I can't post the pictures, but this was a favorite in Florida. My neighbors thought I was crazy. It is delicious sauteed with a finish of soy sauce or fish sauce. We had a several types of smilax, and I preferred the big ones as big around as asparagus. There is a very short window to harvest, they get woody quickly. But if you catch them growing fast, you can harvest long shoots that are tender. Wherever they would snap off with finger pressure is the limit. We were able to have fresh smilax for about a month, and it took under a half hour to harvest enough for a large pan for the whole family. The big fat ones were first, then the smaller ones would start coming out. The deer graze them intensively around my house.

How I guerrilla managed the smilax patches was to machete them to the ground in the fall/winter. That maximized the stored energy in the root (and ours were definitely woody roots, not a tuber). Then in the spring they would shoot up. I would only harvest one year, maybe two, then move on. I also took care to clear the competing vines, because otherwise the smilax could get snuffed out. I think you could harvest again in a few years in Florida, it grows unbelievably fast. It is really a treasure.  I don't know if it would be more productive if you really managed it.
CAM00242.jpg
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smilax fry
 
Dan Boone
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Ooh, that sounds nice!  We don't have any that big in my bioregion; the largest is perhaps pencil-sized.  But there is rather a lot.  It seems pretty sensitive to being whacked, though; that's my method for getting rid of it.  This may be a climate difference, Florida has a lot more summer moisture than we do.

I'm obviously going to have to play with different management regimes to figure out what kinds of pruning and watering maximizes growth.  
 
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Huh!  Eating greenbriar - what a novel idea!  I call it Catbriar in Kentucky because it's so fierce and plenty of claws.  I will have to experiment.  

I love when a use can be found for a pest.
 
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I plant has come up wild in the yard around here, from pruning it back trying to kill it over the last couple years, I've never really seen it 'bush out' or put on multiple tips.  When cut at the base it seems to always just regrow a single vine from the internode below the cut, or erupt another vine from a different location depending on the size of the tuber below the surface (which are generally quite large and wild).  There's also some growing in a boundary hedge which I cut more towards head height because they start to lean and try to grow across trees near the hedge.  Those only seem to ever respond the same way, with a single vine from the internode below the cut.  I don't exactly prune them often, so perhaps a more frequent pruning regime might destabilize their hormone balance and get them to put on more than one tip, but I've not seen this behavior.  That's the concern domestication of plants though, they don't always work.  Who knows though, you may find that one mutated strain that can't check it's hormones as effectively and it sprouts all over.  Just have to experiment like our ancestors did.


Though, one thing you could also try to induce excess budding by forcing the vine to grow more horizontally than vertically. i.e. along a clothes line.  Let it grow vertically out of your pot for a few feet, then continually tie the tip down to a horizontal wire for several feet then snip it.  This should really throw it's hormone control into confusion and just might spark excess budding.  Then it's just the matter of pruning the tips back to the main 'cordon' every couple weeks.   These are a weird plant.  My neighbor cleared an area of brush several years ago and greenbriars were some of the first things to bounce back, and they could detect where other trees are.  Several weeks after his clearing, I was walking by and looked at the area and seen all the greenbriar vines growing towards a Hickory 20' away which was then the tallest, closest object they could detect.  It was a crazy sight.
 
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I like the way you think, Dan.  

As a hunter, I've always hated running into greenbriar;  whether just a few strings that try to trip you up or grab hold of your arms or a massive, impenetrable thicket that forces you to find the long way around it.  

As a forager, I see it in a new light.  Smilax is, as you say, a tasty spring snack that I can't seem to pass by without indulging myself on the fresh, crisp new tendrils.  And, yet again, I have Jackie Dill to thank for it.  

A couple of weeks ago my wife was making a salad and wanted something different for it.  I grabbed my foraging buddy (daughter) and within ten minutes we each had large handfuls of tendrils to offer.  It certainly made a good salad.  

I will admit that I've never considered planting any like you are.  Here in Northeastern Oklahoma all you have to do is walk out the door for an abundant supply.  I'm anxious to hear how your experiment goes!
 
Dan Boone
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Vernon Inverness wrote:
I will admit that I've never considered planting any like you are.  Here in Northeastern Oklahoma all you have to do is walk out the door for an abundant supply.  I'm anxious to hear how your experiment goes!



Sadly my spring got away from me and I didn't get any smilax dug up when it would have been easy.  Like you, I have plenty that's easy to reach near my house, but I remain interested in trying to get some fully tamed and right in my kitchen garden.  Maybe next year!
 
Dan Boone
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maximus mccarthy wrote:I plant has come up wild in the yard around here, from pruning it back trying to kill it over the last couple years, I've never really seen it 'bush out' or put on multiple tips.  When cut at the base it seems to always just regrow a single vine from the internode below the cut, or erupt another vine from a different location depending on the size of the tuber below the surface (which are generally quite large and wild).  There's also some growing in a boundary hedge which I cut more towards head height because they start to lean and try to grow across trees near the hedge.  Those only seem to ever respond the same way, with a single vine from the internode below the cut.  I don't exactly prune them often, so perhaps a more frequent pruning regime might destabilize their hormone balance and get them to put on more than one tip, but I've not seen this behavior.  That's the concern domestication of plants though, they don't always work.  Who knows though, you may find that one mutated strain that can't check it's hormones as effectively and it sprouts all over.  Just have to experiment like our ancestors did.


Though, one thing you could also try to induce excess budding by forcing the vine to grow more horizontally than vertically. i.e. along a clothes line.  Let it grow vertically out of your pot for a few feet, then continually tie the tip down to a horizontal wire for several feet then snip it.  This should really throw it's hormone control into confusion and just might spark excess budding.  Then it's just the matter of pruning the tips back to the main 'cordon' every couple weeks.   These are a weird plant.  My neighbor cleared an area of brush several years ago and greenbriars were some of the first things to bounce back, and they could detect where other trees are.  Several weeks after his clearing, I was walking by and looked at the area and seen all the greenbriar vines growing towards a Hickory 20' away which was then the tallest, closest object they could detect.  It was a crazy sight.



Hey, welcome to Permies!  Those are some really excellent observations, and I thank you for them.  As you say, I'll just have to play around with this stuff.  At least I know it's hard to kill!
 
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