Jackson Vine

July 18, 2008 | By | Comments (49)

Q: In the July 1980 issue there was an article titled, Let Smilax Climb and Twine ( You were probably in kindergarten then.) That article referred to it as greenbrier smilax (Smilax lanceolata). In recent years (I don’t know what issues) you have written at least two articles about smilax. One was titled Easy Curb Appeal and another was One Fine Vine. In each of those you referred to Jackson Vine (Smilax smallii). My question is what is the difference and which one do I want – and where will I find it?
Becky McFadden

A: You still remember a story from 1980? I think you should go on the next archaeological dig with Indiana Jones!

Smilax smallii, also known as Jackson vine, is the updated botanical name for Smilax lanceolata. This is the best species of greenbrier for homeowner use, as the thorns on this evergreen vine appear only around its base near the ground and not along the stems and branches that twine. It gets its common name from the fact that during the Civil War, ladies in Alabama used it to decorate tables when Stonewall Jackson came to town. Today, many of the older homes in Huntsville and Birmingham used it to frame the front door. In the wild, it grows from an enormous tuber that is difficult to dig without the help of a pet boar. For that reason, few nurseries sell Jackson vine, even though it’s easy to start from seeds..

The only mail-order source I know is Woodlanders Nursery in Colleton, South Carolina www.woodlanders.net . For some reason, Woodlanders now calls it “bamboo vine.”

Good luck,


  1. Steve Bender



    May 28, 2015 at 2:34 pm
  2. Lynne McGarity

    I am soooo excited to find Jackson Vine. I had it in Raleigh, NC over our front porch (everyone had it over their porches) in 1990. Moved to Atlanta, GA and built a house. Missed my Jackson vine so much that I called a nursery in Raleigh and had them UPS me two roots. Planted on my new front porch. No one had ever seen or heard of it before but loved my vine. 25 years later we live at The Landings in Savannah, GA. Have been desperately trying to find it again. No one has it anymore. Thank heavens for the internet!! I have found it again on line and am waiting on them to arrive! I am thrilled ! In my 40 years of gardening, I have never loved a vine or plant like the Jackson Vine!

    May 15, 2015 at 3:11 pm
  3. Steve Bender


    No stem lives forever. My guess is that this older stem is going to die and be replaced by a younger, more vigorous one.

    August 11, 2014 at 9:30 am
  4. Linda

    My Jackson vine is turning yellow. Actually it’s the older vine tendril. The new tendrils are still green. What’s happening to my vine, Grumpy?

    August 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm
  5. eleanor keith

    Is there a way to get rid of doves, nesting in J. Vine and killing it?

    June 4, 2014 at 2:39 pm
  6. Steve Bender

    Jackson vine is tough, so I think you either pot or move the tuber. It may just sit there for a while after, but ti won’t die. GG

    May 17, 2013 at 9:16 am
  7. Emily Weathers Kennedy

    I bought my tuber several years ago from a lady in Huntsville. It is glorious over my porch steps and down the side of the porch. Recently I noticed a shoot at least a foot maybe more from the “mother” tuber. It must go because it will be climbing over the bare porch with no rail (with other vines gathered neatly). So, I really must dig up this piece and move. Would it be better to pot for the summer or go ahead and put it in the ground at my mother’s (also in Southern Middle Tennessee).

    May 12, 2013 at 3:52 pm
  8. Steve Bender


    It sounds like the vine is turning its leaves to face the sun. There isn’t much you can do about that. You can dig and divide the enormous tuber to get more plants. It’s best to wait until fall to do this.

    May 8, 2013 at 11:27 am
  9. Linda J.

    We moved to Huntsville last fall and found a Jackson vine mostly growing on a shrub by the chain link fence in back; I wanted it to cover the fence, so I unwound it and tried to get it to grow along the top of the fence. However, it is still turning its “backside” to the front. I don’t want to cut it all the way down. Is there another way to get it to change directions? Also, I’d like to have some of it growing by the front door. I don’t see any “suckers” that I can take to transplant. If I were to dig all the way to the tuber, can I divide the tuber (if I get roots with each piece) so that I have two plants? Or how can I get a second plant from it? We also have the invasive, thorny Smilax, but that’s another story!

    May 4, 2013 at 7:55 pm
  10. Steve Bender


    Sometimes Jackson vine is slow to take off after transplanting. Once it gets settled, though, look out! So be patient.

    January 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm
  11. Kim Strickland

    I have Jackson Vine planted to run across my front porch. It has been there for 2 years and has only grown a couple of inches! Should I fertilize it? What’s the deal? It’s just been sitting there and not growing at all :(

    January 19, 2013 at 9:15 am
  12. Steve Bender

    You’re welcome, Debra!

    September 4, 2012 at 11:11 am
  13. Debra

    I started searching the web for information on this vine as I want to plant it to grow on my porch. I grew up in Decatur and remember them on the beautiful Victorian houses in the historic district. Thanks for the information on where to buy and the correct species.

    September 2, 2012 at 11:02 am
  14. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    I agree that Jackson vine can be a problem sometimes, because that’s the nature of vines. But let’s also keep in mind that Jackson vine is a species of Smilax. There are many different species, some thorny and some not, some evergreen and some not, and some invasive and some not, that grow in the South. I have several on my property. However, the true Jackson vine (Smilax smallii) is not a problem like the others. At least, not for me.

    May 4, 2012 at 1:27 pm
  15. Bill T.

    I feel this needs to be said. I have been attempting to eradicate Jackson vine on my property for ten years, and it has gotten much worse in the last three or four years. I think birds or chipmunks are spreading the seeds. It is spreading like Kudzu on my subdivision lot. The danged stuff likes to grow upward out of the roots of desirable shrubs and when it does, it is impossible to get all the potatoe-like roots. The only herbicide I have found that will kill it is Fertilome Stump Killer/Brush Killer in full strength application to foliage (when possible) or to the severed stalk near the ground. Just today, I treated about thirty-five more vine plants on my lot. I suggest to anyone considering planting Jackson vine to be aware that it is VERY invasive and can be a huge problem for shrubbery.

    April 30, 2012 at 3:55 pm
  16. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Gee Mark,
    I bet you enjoy telling kids there’s no Santa Claus too! Well, maybe he was planning to visit Alabama, because the ladies named the vine after him — or so they say.

    April 30, 2012 at 7:48 am
  17. Mark

    I hate to spoil a good story, but Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson never visited Alabama during the War. Before the War, Jackson was an obscure professor at VMI and before that a rather undistinguished Army officer, certainly not someone to be feted by the ladies of Alabama. General Jackson’s attention during the first part of the War, when he became famous and adored by Southerners, was totally in the Virginia theater. General Jackson was killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863).

    April 28, 2012 at 10:25 am
  18. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    If you can manage to dig up the enormous tuber, it should grow in San Antonio.

    April 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm
  19. glee-Decatur, Al

    Will the Jackson Vine live in San Antonio,Tx? I just hate to leave it in Alabama.

    April 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm
  20. glee-Decatur, Al

    will the Jackson Vine grow in San Antonio Tx? I have it here in Decatur, Al-Don’t want to leave it!!glee-

    April 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm
  21. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Jackson vine has thorns only near the base. Other species of Smilax are thorny from top to bottom.

    February 24, 2012 at 11:35 am
  22. Sherry

    I am surprised to see so many folks that love this vine! I thought everyone hated it. I’ve dug them that were literally as big and long as my arm with vines 1/2 inch or thicker. Terrible thorns on many of them.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:56 pm
  23. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    Unless your vine is looking sickly, I don’t think fertilizer is necessary. Just keep the base of it mulched and the decomposing mulch will do the job. If you still think fertilizing is required, I’d use an organic product, such as Holly-Tone.

    January 25, 2012 at 10:45 am
  24. Tony Pivinski

    Would like to know how to fertilze smilax? Have it across our front porch and hung it on chain as it grows. (a tip from Southern living)
    That way you casn take it down to trim or if you need to paint. works great!

    January 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm
  25. Ben Hadley

    I have several different varieties of smilax vines growing wild. How can I tell which ones are the Jackson vines? Also, our local newspaper gardener says smilax is good to eat and that Jackson vine is the one that’s best. Do you eat them or have you ever tried?
    Like toadstools, I don’t want to eat the wrong one.
    –Ben Hadley

    June 29, 2011 at 2:12 am
  26. Sherry

    Thanks! I like the fishing line idea, then it can just wind its way back and forth on it. I can secure it at the fartherest points on the ceiling.

    June 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm
  27. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Jackson vine climbs by tendrils, so it does need something to grab on to. You could run a thin copper wire or even some twine or fishing line across.

    June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am
  28. Sherry

    Hi. I bought Jackson vine in my hometown of Huntsville two years ago to bring to my new hometown of Nashville. It wintered well and now it has reached the ceiling of my porch. My question is: How do I get it to adhere to the ceiling? Do I need to put something up there for it to adhere to? Or wait until it’s long enough to reach the other side where it may get a hold? Thanks!

    June 3, 2011 at 8:59 pm
  29. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Jackson vine grows from a various large tuber that looks kind of like a potato. Over the years, the tuber can get huge. I would not move it now that the weather has warmed. You’ll have to wait until fall. The suckers (or “shooters”) can be dug and separated from the mother plant at that time. Be sure each sucker comes with some roots.

    April 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm
  30. PAT COPE


    April 23, 2011 at 9:28 am
  31. PAT COPE


    April 23, 2011 at 9:27 am
  32. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    If you cut it all the way to the ground, you’ll have to wait a lot longer to get the decorative vine you want. I would just cut out the dead now. Jackson vine normally is bare for the first couple of feet near the ground.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:44 am
  33. Martha

    I live in Nashville, TN and have a very healthy Jackson Vine on my front porch. I am cutting back now to get rid of the dead growth. Should I cut all the way to the ground or just cut from where the vines (about 5) reach the top of the porch and begin to leaf?

    March 18, 2011 at 10:53 pm
  34. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Yes, you can cut out the dead now or anytime.

    January 25, 2011 at 4:24 pm
  35. Katie

    Thanks!I actually dont want to get rid of it. I love it! I was just wondering when the best time to cut it back to get rid of the dead, etc. Im guessing I need to do it before Spring. Sorry, i should have been clearer…thanks for responding so quickly.

    January 25, 2011 at 3:10 pm
  36. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Anytime you want to. Be warned, however, that Jackson vine forms an enormous tuber in the ground. If you cut off the top growth, it will just sprout again. To get rid of it for good, you’ll have to dig up the tuber.

    January 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm
  37. Katie

    When is the best time to cut Jackson Vine down?

    January 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm
  38. Gold Hill Plant farm

    Gold Hill Plant Farm has a limited supply of jackson Smilax vine. Visit us online at

    May 2, 2010 at 9:06 am
  39. Gene

    I was told, the 1st year it sleeps, the 2nd year it creeps & the 3rd year it leeps! It’s true. I cut mine down to the ground every 2-3 years to get rid of the dead & it comes back 4-5 new shoots. Grows very fast once established.

    February 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm
  40. Grumpy Gardener (aka His Excellency)

    You are correct. One vine is plenty for the average arbor.

    October 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm
  41. Dawn Harrison

    If I’m going to plant Jackson Vine at the base of an arbor, should I only plant one? Are they so fast growing that I don’t need to plant one on each side?

    October 22, 2009 at 8:55 am
  42. Grumpy Gardener aka His Excellency

    Be patient if it just seems to sit there for a while. When it makes it mind up to grow, it will do so quickly.

    July 16, 2009 at 1:03 pm
  43. Krissy

    I live in the very small town of Arab, Alabama, and our local nursery here sells it too! I planted it in the spring (after reading here I guess that was not the best idea) but I’m hoping it will flourish next spring!! It’s a beautiful touch to porches here in North AL!

    July 16, 2009 at 9:38 am
  44. Grumpy Gardener

    My lips are sealed.

    June 6, 2009 at 4:09 pm
  45. Chris

    Grumpy I live in Pensacola Fl. now, but from N. Al. I have the Jackson Vine on an arbor in my yard and love, love it. I have been told I was crazy for wanting something that the State of Fl considered an invasive plant. I had it on my back porch before I moved and I dug that thing up and moved it with me..I think it came from Huntsville. My sister-in-law in Decatur gave it to me…I just visted my old place across town and lo and behold there was a 5 ft. shoot of that vine still coming up.. I think I will dig it up and bring the rest home where it belongs..teehee…Chris

    June 6, 2009 at 2:55 pm
  46. Grumpy Gardener

    Thanks, Gina. Might you be speaking of Bennett’s Nursery?

    May 22, 2009 at 3:10 pm
  47. gina

    I live in Huntsville, and there is a nursery that sells this vine. It is on north memorial pkwy north of alabama a&m. it sells for around $25.00 and is a transplant about a foot or so long. I have two and they should be planted in the fall/winter for spring growth. They look dead the first year but in the spring will florish and grom about 25 feet. each year they grow from the ground into another vine so they become quite thick if not trained or cut. they are evergreen and are very hardy.

    May 22, 2009 at 2:06 am
  48. Grumpy

    Maybe we should change the name to “Katrina vine.”

    July 21, 2008 at 8:02 am
  49. Jan

    I still remember that story from 1980, too. In fact, it is still in my garden folder of saved articles. My sister and I looked all over for that vine. Surprisingly, after Hurricane Katrina, they started popping up all over my garden. Don’t ask me how or why. Maybe they were there all along, and in maintaining the garden were cut down. Now we have enough for both our gardens.

    July 18, 2008 at 8:23 pm

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