The genus Smilax (Smilacaceae) includes species of medicinal interest; consequently, their identification is important for the control of raw material used in the manufacture of phytotherapeutic products. We investigated the karyotype of Smilax rufescens in order to look for patterns that would be useful for comparative studies of this genus. To accomplish this, we developed procedures to grow plants and optimize root pretreatment with mitotic fuse inhibitors to obtain metaphase spreads showing clear chromosome morphology. The karyotype, analyzed in Feulgen-stained preparations, was asymmetric, with N = 16 chromosomes gradually decreasing in size; the larger ones were subtelocentric and the smaller chromosomes were submetacentric or metacentric. Nearly terminal secondary constrictions were visualized on the short arm of chromosome pairs 7, 11, and 14, but they were clearly detected only in one of the homologues of each pair. The nucleolus organizer regions (NORs) were mapped by silver staining and fluorescent in situ hybridization of 45S rDNA probes. Silver signals (Ag-NORs) colocalized with rDNA loci were detected at the termini of the short arm of 6 chromosomes. The secondary constriction heteromorphism observed in Feulgen-stained metaphases suggests that differential rRNA gene expression between homologous rDNA loci can occur, resulting in different degrees of chromatin decondensation. In addition, a heteromorphic chromosome pair was identified and was interpreted as being a sex chromosome pair in this dioecious species.