summer grape

Grape (Vitis)

I have such fond memories of grape, or grapevine, as I always knew it. As a kid, I used to swing from a thick old vine off a forested hillside. My parents diligently spent entire summers cutting the base of these vines to save young trees. I was never quite sure if I liked the sweet Muscadine grapes my Grandfather and Aunts grew but now when I eat them they the take me back to long summer days, running around barefoot without a care in the world.

Grape can be aggressive but in a mature forest it is much less intimidating. I’m not sure how the thick old vines find their way up these old trees but somehow they manage, loosely wrapping themselves around branches in a harmonious way. In a young forest or field they will overtake trees and shrubs, eventually killing them. Since mature forests are rare these days, the wild grape has gotten a bad rap as an aggressive tree killer.

I had to rewrite this post after realizing I’m not sure what kind of grape or grapes are growing in my garden. It turns out there are many varieties native to my area as well as an invasive known as the Porcelain-berry. Identifying them is tricky enough without adding an invasive grape from Asia to the mix. This site about plants native to Georgia and the Carolinas has some excellent images and info to help with identification. The Delaware Department of Agriculture has an excellent source for deciphering invasives from natives in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region.

It never really occurred to me that this intimidating plant might have other values besides recreation. Who would have thought Concord grape, the one used to make jelly and juice, is derived from the native Fox grape.

Native grapes are a critical food source for many birds and animals. In my own garden, as I write this, what must be thousands of pollinators are swarming around a mound of this vine. They must be attracted to the tiny white flowers, so delicate for such an obtrusive plant. Nevertheless, the Grape should win first prize as the ultimate double edged sword of plants.


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