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Ask the Observer: Found on the beach Feb 14, 2015

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While visiting Ocracoke last weekend (Feb 14, 2015), I came across two interesting objects. This one was just north of the life guard beach. Can you help  identify it? 
Lisa Day Eiland

Root found on Ocracoke beach. Photo by Lisa Day Eiland

Root found on Ocracoke beach. Photo by Lisa Day Eiland

  The Observer’s native plant expert, Ken Moore who lives in the Chapel Hill area, offers this observation:

That root is the thick tuberous root stem of Smilax probably Smilax laurifolia or Smilax bonanox, two of several that grow out on the dunes and in the maritime forest.  This green vine, some with evergreen leaves, literally tie the shrubby vegetation together and must help greatly in securing the sandy shore against the sea wash and winds.  The common name is catbrier. Plants can go by several names, including dune greenbrier and earlobe greenbrier. I find these hard-as-wood roots just about every time I walk out around Springer’s Point and quite often see them washed up in the surf on the open beach.  I have kept some and hung them up as small sculptures.  It would be fun to plant one of those to see if it will continue to grow and then you would know which catbrier it is.

(Smilax laurifolia) Pocosin edge in Alligator River NWR, North Carolina. Photo by Jeff Pippen

(Smilax laurifolia)
Pocosin edge in Alligator River NWR, North Carolina. Photo by Jeff Pippen

Catbrier has great wildlife value, is in the lily family and produces lots of  berries that start light colored and turn dark blue to black as they mature, and are source of food for birds and small mammals.  It also has some significant medicinal values and Native American groups used this plant medicinally. For example, the Cherokee used it to treat sores and burns.

 

Note the vine photo comes from Jeff  Pippen’s website which is a wonderful resource for North Carolina’s flora and fauna. You can access it here 

Ken Moore

Ken Moore

Ken Moore managed the North Carolina Botanical Garden from 1970 until his retirement as Assistant Director in 2003. He continues to teach plant identification classes and lead occasional field trips for the Garden.  He wrote a weekly column, “Flora” for The Carrboro Citizen during its publication March 2007 – October 2012.

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1 reply »

  1. Wonderful information!! Thank you so much, and I look forward to visiting Jeff’s website. Lisa Eiland