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Sarsaparilla is a brambled, woody vine that grows up to 50 m long, with paired tendrils for climbing (often high into the rainforest canopy). It produces small flowers and black, blue, or red berry-like fruits which are eaten greedily by birds. Smilax, a member of the lily family, is native to tropical and temperate parts of the world and comprises about 350 species worldwide. It is native to South America, Jamaica, the Caribbean, Mexico, Honduras, and the West Indies. The name sarsaparilla or zarzaparilla comes from the Spanish word zarza (bramble or bush), parra (vine), and illa (small)—a small, brambled vine. The stems of many Smilax species are covered with prickles and, sometimes, these vines are cultivated to form impenetrable thickets (which are called catbriers or greenbriers). The root is long and tuberous—spreading 6–8 feet—and is odorless and fairly tasteless. Many species of Smilax around the world share the name sarsaparilla; these are very similar in appearance, uses, and even chemical structure.
Sources: SARSAPARILLA - Raintree Nutrition, Inc, http://www.rain-tree.com/reports/sarsaparilla-techreport.pdf (accessed January 23, 2017).