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The greenbrier is a tough climbing vine armed with spines or prickles and paired coiling tendrils. There are three species in West Virginia, the common greenbrier (or horsebrier), the saw brier, and the hispid (or bristly) greenbrier. The color of the stem, leaf shape, and prickles distinguish them. All have bluish-black berries in clusters. These persist in the winter long after more desirable fruits are gone and are eaten by black bear, raccoon, turkey, grouse, thrushes, catbirds, and mockingbirds. Greenbriers serve as important cover plants for wildlife, and many species of birds will nest among the vines. The young shoots are also heavily browsed by deer and rabbits. The roots have been used in making an amber-colored jelly and a drink like root beer. Greenbrier may be found in thickets, open woods, fields, fence rows, and along woodland borders throughout the state.

The often impenetrable thickets of greenbrier and their painful spines made an impression on early settlers. The Greenbrier River is named after these vines, as is the county and the world famous resort in White Sulphur Springs.

Written by Kathleen Carothers Leo


  1. Kenny, Hamill. West Virginia Place Names. Piedmont: Place Name Press, 1945.