As a boy in Athens, I thought having smilax on the mantle, up the stairs and over the doorway was as natural as the evergreen tree in the living room. I presumed everyone used smilax as their Christmas greenery accent and, in fact, I think all my friends did. Ours came from a special hidden spot way in the back of my grandparents woods on their farm out the Jefferson Road. You could not tell anyone how to find it. But it was always within twenty feet of where it was last year and since it was associated with Christmas, there was no way on earth you would go seeking and return empty handed. Your feet knew the way.
Last week I went deep into these same woods looking for my honey spot. She was there and not that hard to find. Development is encroaching on what used to be private forest and those surveyor stakes seemed a bit close to my target. There’s a chance, a wee, little chance that this particular pine where my beautiful and rare smilax was resting forty feet up may be someone else’s pine today. Well, good for you if it is. I’ll get you some smilax next year. But if you want it all for yourself, Mr. New Neighbor, you’d better put up a fence. Make it a high one.
Sadly, I broke, at the twelve foot level, the main vine leading up the pine trunk to the beautiful smilax early in my adventure. Hiking to the shed, hoisting a heavy ladder and somehow draggin’ that bad boy through seven miles (I counted) of thicket and thorns resulted in my prize vine being secured and my old body being
whooped. I easily draped a few yards over my late mother’s front door and then brought the rest to Club 22 where it is being used to add to Christmas in Atlanta.
Two pieces of advice for Southern Christmas Smilax Aficionados: First, do not send a Yankee to gather smilax. Anything green and in a winter tree appears like smilax to the untaught. We pros know its dense image in a high, high place from many yards away. We can easily avoid chasing the random thorny thistle with ease. A Yankee cannot do this. I suspect anyone north of Bristol, VA, cannot
do this, but I don’t know those people so I’m just guessing.
Piece of advice number two: Do not look up smilax on Wikipedia. It seems to think there are hundreds (yes) varieties of the beautiful Christmas accessory and have so many side articles about how to rid your (Yankee) farm of this charmer that you will think we’re talking about kudzu. I’ll get around to that choker another day.
I’ve mentioned smilax to Athens friends recently and everyone seems to recognize its beauty and most still include it in their decorating. But their stories about how easy it is to retrieve and how abundant their patch of smilax is causes me just a bit of concern. Smilax are hard. Holly are easy.