Smilax aspera L.
Common names: Common Smilax, Rough Bindweed, Prickly ivy, Salsaparilla [En], Salsepareille, Liseron épineux [Fr], Αρκουδόβατος [Gr], Başta nemçesaparnası, Yurdumuzda nemçe saparnası [Tr]
Marathokampos, Samos ● Greece
Etymology: aspera comes from the Latin word for “rough”, possibly referring to the toughness of its branches, or to the presence of many small prickles that make the plant cling to clothes and other plants, giving it a rough sensation.
Mythology: There are different versions about Smilax in Greek mythology, but all involve a relationship between the beautiful nymph Smilax with a Spartan boy, Krokos, loved by the god Hermes. After the unhappy love affair Hermes (or Artemis?) metamorphosed him into the saffron crocus. Aphrodite transformed the tragic nymph into the Smilax, to grow nearby, so that they could be together for eternity.
Description: It is a creeping or scrambling and vigorously climbing evergreen and tough shrub. It is a glabrous, dioecious perennial. The stems can be up to 15 m, twining and climbing into and over other trees, with spiny zigzag branches.
The leathery, glossy and alternating leaves draw more attention than the flowers. Large leaves can be up to 15 X 9.5 cm but are mostly smaller. They are heart-shaped, very leathery and have a pair of tendrils arising from the base of the petiole, with prickles on petiole, margin and principal veins beneath. The blade has several strong longitudinal veins and reticulate fine venation, with pale green patches on the upper surface of most leaves. The size and shape of the leaves are very variable.
The flowers are borne in inflorescences in the leaf axils and on terminal branches. Every umbel has a few typically monocot flowers that have a sweet almond smell. The axes can range from 3 to more than 30 cm, and carry 5 to 30 flowers with minute bracteoles. The flowers are white but the perianth-segments are so narrow that the flowers are hardly noticed.
The male flowers measure about 1 cm across and consist of 6 perianth segments and 6 stamens. The female flowers are smaller, about 7 mm across. They consist of 6 perianth segments.
The fruit is a spherical rather soft berry, about 10 mm long and 7 mm broad. The mature berries are red, when they dry out they turn black.
Flowering Season: August - November
Habitat: garrigue, phrygana, shrub and bushy places throughout the Mediterranean region, frequently forming an impenetrable hedgerow.
Distribution: Mediterranean region, Central Africa, Central Asia, Mexico.
Medicinal uses: The Common Smilax is sometimes medically used to treat psoriasis, bronchitis, enfisema, asthma and chronic rheumatism. The mature berries are squeezed and applied to the skin in the treatment of cutaneous disease.
Flowers of Chania