Smilax china (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Smilax china L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 2: 1029 (1753).

Vernacular names

  • China root, Chinese sarsaparilla (En).
  • Racine de Chine, squine (Fr)
  • Indonesia: gadung cina (general), peundang (Aceh), ghadhung tambha (Madurese)
  • Malaysia: gadong china, gadong saberang, akar restong
  • Philippines: sarsaparillang-china (Tagalog), buanal (Igorot), palipit (Bontok)
  • Vietnam: kim chang trung quốe.


From Japan and southern China, through the Ryukyu Islands to Laos, Vietnam, northern Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and the Philippines. S. china has long been cultivated in China and Japan as a medicinal plant. The rhizomes are imported in Indonesia and Malaysia.


Rhizomes had a long-standing reputation as a remedy for syphilis, complaints of the genito-urinary system, rheumatism and skin diseases. S. china is used in anticancer drugs in Chinese medicine. In Malaysia, the imported rhizomes are used against syphilis and gonorrhoea, as a tonic and after childbirth; in Indonesia against syphilis and framboesia; in the Philippines against herpes, syphilis, chronic rheumatism, skin diseases and asthma.


  • A climber up to 5 m long with smooth or sparingly prickly stem and branches.
  • Leaves ovate-orbicular, broadly elliptical to ovate-elliptical or narrowly elliptical, up to 12 cm long, petiole up to 1.5 cm long, wings of petiolar sheaths rather weakly developed, tendrils up to 15 cm long.
  • Umbels solitary.
  • Fruit 10-12 mm in diameter, red at maturity.
  • Seeds red-purple.

In China, two types can be distinguished, one with big berries and the other with small berries; these types can be distinguished by pyrolysis-high resolution gas chromatography. In tropical Asia S. china occurs only in scrub vegetation and open forest in mountains above 1000 m altitude, but in more temperate regions it also grows in the lowland; in the Philippines it is found in moss forest at 1600-2400 m altitude.

Selected sources

190, 202, 549, 580, 735, 779, 780, 781, 832, 1178, 1288, 1570.


Stephen P. Teo