Q: I have noticed an interesting vine growing on a fence near my house. It has bright red berries hanging in clusters from the stem. The leaves look vaguely like smilax or large-leaf vinca. Do you know what it is?
A: It’s Carolina snailseed, Cocculus carolinus. I didn’t know this plant until I saw one on a fence in Ormewood Park.
When I gave the description to Elizabeth Dean from Wilkerson Mill Gardens, she immediately exclaimed, “Oh yeah – it’s that snail plant thing I get questions about each fall!”
There’s nothing snail-like in outward appearance but if you clean the skin and pulp off the red berries you’ll find that the single seed in each one resembles a small snail shell.
I looked it up in Dr. Michael Dirr’s exhaustive woody plant reference book, where he writes that he had never seen Carolina snailseed until he came to Georgia. It is a native plant which might have potential for landscape use if we could breed one that doesn’t reproduce so readily.