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This small family from the tropics and temperate parts of the Southern Hemisphere is found in Australia principally in rainforests and wet sclerophyll forests, especially on margins and in gaps, mostly in north-east Queensland but with some species extending to the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and others to eastern Victoria.

Characteristic features of the family Smilacaceae in Australia include:

  • climbers (occasionally shrubby), often with prickles on the tough stems, and some with tendrils from the leaf axils
  • leaves alternate, tough and leathery, parallel-veined and often with prominent, finer interveins forming a net-like pattern
  • flowers greenish, white, cream, pink or red, in axillary (or sometimes terminal) panicles, umbels, spikes or racemes, with 6 petal-like perianth parts and 6 stamens
  • ovary superior, developing into a black or yellow to red, rather thick-skinned berry or fleshy capsule with large, black seeds


Woody or perennial herbaceous vines climbing by tendrils, hooks, twining or scrambling stems, or rarely evergreen shrubs. Tendrils (if present) axillary, opposite leaves or terminating inflorescence axes. Perennating by rhizomes. Vegetative reproduction absent or by rhizomes. Stems unarmed, or with prickles or spines arising from the stem surface. Internal secretions not obvious. Plants glabrous, or with simple, non-glandular, uniseriate hairs. Leaves alternate and spiral, or distichous, or opposite, or in whorls of 3, petiolate or subsessile. Stipule-like lobes absent, or present and free from the petiole, persistent. Lamina simple, symmetric, filiform, acicular, subulate, linear, lanceolate, ovate, elliptic, oblong or orbicular; base cuneate, attenuate, rounded, cordate, hastate, sagittate, lobed or auriculate; margins entire, ±flat; venation pinnate, or parallel, with the midrib conspicuous, and the tertiary venation reticulate; surfaces not punctate; herbaceous or leathery. Leaf ligule absent. Mostly with male and flowers occurring on separate plants, or rarely with all the flowers bisexual. Inflorescences terminal, axillary or leaf opposed, consisting of spikes, racemes, panicles, cymes, umbels or solitary flowers. Bracts present or absent. Pollination by insects. Flowers odourless, sessile or stalked. Floral disc present or absent; nectaries absent or present on the perianth or the carpels. Perianth regular, of 2 dissimilar whorls, imbricate or valvate in bud. Calyx segments free, with 3 sepals, herbaceous. Corolla segments free, with 3 petals, alternating with the sepals, white, cream, pink or violet, without contrasting markings, membranous; claws absent; lobes trifid, trilobed or more divided. Fertile stamens 6, opposite to or alternating with the sepals, free of the corolla, free of the ovary and style, distinct from each other, grouped or fused into bundles, or fused by their filaments into an open or closed tube, all ±equal. Anthers basifixed, not versatile, opening sideways or inwards by pores or by longitudinal slits, 1–2-celled. Ovary superior and sessile, or inferior. Carpels 3, fused; ovary with 1–3 locules. Style terminal, single and unbranched, or branched above, or absent with the stigma ±sessile. Ovules 1–numerous per locule, stalked or sessile; placentation parietal or axile. Fruit a berry or fleshy loculicidal capsule; the perianth on the maturing fruit deciduous, or dry and persistent. Disseminule micro-surface ±smooth, red, purple, brown or black, glossy or dull. Seeds 1–numerous per fruit. Aril present or absent. Cotyledons 1. Embryo straight or curved.
(Note: this description has been generated from the coded data compiled for the key. Any errors in the key data will be reflected in the descriptions.)

A treatment of the family Smilacaceae has been published in:
Flora of Australia 46: 180-196.

Australian genera of Smilacaceae (as recognised for the Flora of Australia)


Eustrephus latifolius (fruits)
Photo: M.Fagg © ANBG 

Geitonoplesium cymosum (flowers)
Photo: H.Nicholson © H. & N. Nicholson 

Petermannia cirrosa (flowers)
Photo: D.Jones © D.Jones 

Petermannia cirrosa (fruits)
Photo: H.Nicholson © H. & N. Nicholson