Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants - Online edition

Smilax glyciphylla Sm.

Slender Vine
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Leaves, inflorescence and flowers. © B. Gray
Fruit. CC-BY J.L. Dowe
Scale bar 10mm. © CSIRO
Cotyledon stage, hypogeal germination. © CSIRO
10th leaf stage. © CSIRO

Smith, J.E. (1790) Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales : 230. Type: New South Wales, Port Jackson, J. White, holo: ?.

Common name

Sweet Tea; Sarsaparilla, Native; Native Sarsaparilla; Sarsaparilla, Smooth; Sarsaparilla, Sweet; Sweet Sarsaparilla; Smooth Sarsaparilla


A slender vine not exceeding a stem diameter of 2 cm.


Male flowers: Flowers borne in umbels or panicles of umbels. Pedicels about 12-15 mm long. Sepals ovate, about 2.5 x 3 mm. Petals oblong, about 2.5-3 x 1 mm. Stamens six, anthers about 1.2 x 0.6 mm, +/- sessile. Female flowers: Pedicels about 6-8 mm long. Sepals ovate, about 2 x 1 mm. Petals oblong, about 2 x 0.8 mm. Staminodes linear, about 1-1.5 mm long. Ovary +/- globose, about 1 mm diam. Style absent. Stigma three-armed. Ovules one per locule.


Fruits borne in umbels of 5-12. Fruits globular or depressed globular, about 8-10 mm diam. on stalks about 4-7 mm long. Seeds one or two per fruit, each seed tick-shaped, about 6 x 4.5 mm. Embryo about 1.5 mm long, located at the blunt end of the seed just inside the testa.


Usually 1 or 2 cataphylls produced just outside the seed coat and 1 or 2 more further up the stem before the first true leaf. First true leaf ovate to lanceolate, about 3.5-5 x 1-1.5 cm, apex acute to acuminate and mucronate, base obtuse, petiole about 5-6 mm long, expanded at the base to form two wings which embrace the stem. At the tenth leaf stage: stems clustered, several stems arising from the one rhizome, leaf blades lanceolate to narrowly lanceolate, about 10 x 2.5 cm, apex acuminate, base cuneate, petiole about 6-7 mm long, base expanded into two wings which embrace the stem. Leaf blades usually three-veined, underside glaucous, midrib raised on the upper surface. Seed germination time 287 days.

Distribution and Ecology

Endemic to Australia, occurs in CYP, NEQ, CEQ and southwards as far as south-eastern New South Wales. Altitudinal range in CYP and NEQ from near sea level to 1500 m. Grows in lowland, upland and mountain rain forest.

Natural History & Notes

This species was one of the earliest medicinal plants to be used in the colony, and its value as a tonic and a scurvy preventative was recorded in 1790 by the Surgeon-General, John White. The leaves are used, and the tea made from them gives a drink which is sweet and bitter at the same time. In the colonial times the drink was sold under the name of sarsaparilla. Cribb (1981).

Ripogonum album non R.Br., : ().
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