Thursday, October 22, 2009
Sounds like the wild grapes of ancient Greece weren't too different from our own -- very tempting but very sour. Our native grapes are also very small. But we like them anyway...and like the fox in Aesop's fable, we'll go to some lengths to get some every fall.
As they get older, the vines shed their bark, giving them a shredded texture. It's not uncommon to see thick, peeling grapevines reaching far up into the canopy -- they've kept pace with the tree they're hanging from, making sure they can get sun for their leaves even as the tree puts on new growth.
There are several other small, purple fruits in the fall. Make sure you rule these out -- none of them are edible, and some are quite poisonous: virginia creeper (which has leaves made of five leaflets, and red stems on the fruit), Canada moonseed (whose leaves are a similar shape to grapes, but smooth, not toothed; each fruit has a single, moon-shaped seed), porcelain berry (also has grape-like leaves, but the berries are blue and white before ripening, not green like unripe grapes), and pokeweed (not a vine, but it can be mixed into thickets that also include grapes; fruits branch off a very straight stalk that's often reddish).
Enough warnings. We've taught 3-year-olds to reliably recognize wild grapes...you can do it too.
In your yard: Wild grapes are a lot easier to grow than cultivated grapes, in the sense that they don't get as many pests and diseases. But the vines can grow up to 75 feet long. They'll do best in full sun, on a trellis. You can also try a more naturalistic planting, as long as there's something for the tendrils to wrap around for support.