Family: Grape Family (Vitaceae)
Origin and Distribution: Most of the 50 or 60 species in the Vitis genus are native to eastern and central North America. In Ohio, RIVERBANK (Vitis riparia) and FROST GRAPES (Vitis vulpina) are located throughout the state, FOX GRAPE (Vitis labrusca) grows along Lake Erie and in a few southern counties, SUMMER GRAPE (Vitis aestivalis) can be found in the eastern part of Ohio, and PIGEON (Vitis cinerea) and POSSUM GRAPES (Vitis baileyana) occur in southern Ohio. Wild grapes grow in woods, on riverbanks, along fencerows, and in managed areas such as orchards, vineyards, tree plantations, and landscapes. Preferred soil type differs among species and ranges from moist and rich to sandy and dry.
Plant Description: Wild grapes are perennial climbing or trailing vines. Distinguishing characteristics include large leaves with veins extending like fingers from the point where leaf and leaf stalk (petiole) join, forked tendrils that persist becoming dark and brittle over time, shredding bark, and fruits that are smaller than but similar in appearance to commercially available grapes. Reproduction is by seeds, and stems sprout readily if cut.
- Root system - Roots are generally woody and often live for years.
- Stems - Stems have brown bark that appears shredded and falls off in strips.
- Leaves - Leaves are alternate (1 leaf per node), 2 to 5 inches long, wide, and have toothed edges. Leaf veins radiate out like fingers on a hand from the point on the leaf where it attaches to the petiole. Leaves may or may not be lobed. If lobed, they usually have 3 parts. Although specific leaf shapes and characteristics vary among species, wild grape leaves are generally maple-leaf or heart shaped.
- Flowers - Greenish flowers form in long clusters.
- Fruits & Seeds - Fruits consists of clusters of purplish-black berries that are smaller in size and less sweet than fruits of cultivated grapes.
Similar Species: Leaves of Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) are compound whereas wild grape leaves are not. Tendrils of wild grapes are more conspicuous and often branched compared to those of Virginia creeper, which usually adhere by way of terminal pads. Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) occasionally escapes cultivation; however, it has shinier leaves compared with those of wild grapes and at the tips of its tendrils are adhering disks. Moonseed (Menispermum canadense) is a woody vine with an appearance similar to that of wild grape vines except moonseed leaves have 10 or fewer lobes compared to grape leaves that have many teeth around their entire edge. The purple fruits of moonseed contain a single crescent-shaped seed while the fruits of wild grapes are also purple but they contain numerous oval seeds. Although a native of eastern North America, moonseed is not common. It is a species that should be avoided as it can poison livestock as well as humans.
Biology: Wild grapes flower in late spring to early summer. Berries are produced from August until frost. Leaves are deciduous and generally do not change color before falling off. Birds and other animals eat the fruits and disperse seeds. Aptly described as a climbing shrub, wild grape vines are capable of climbing over trees and blocking enough of the light reaching the trees to harm or even kill them. Thickets of wild grape can be found growing over shrubs, shading them, or along the ground.
Toxicity: None known.
Facts and Folklore:
- Relatives of wild grape growing in the Burgundy area of France are known to be over 400 years old.