Dirt on Gardening

Did you know there are over 100 wineries in Missouri? Small wineries have sprung up across our state and across the U.S. as the wine industry tries to carve out local and regional niches.

However, long before anyone cleared the ground and set up trellis systems for cultivated grapes in a Missouri garden, wild grapes have clambered from tree to tree in our woods.

Just as cultivated grapes are reaching maturity right now, our wild grapes are also ripening on their wild vines. Grapes are an important part of our Ozark ecosystem.

Many birds and mammals eat wild grapes. These include quail, wild turkey, raccoon, fox and deer. Deer will also eat grape foliage, and turkey will eat young grape tendrils. The long strips of bark that come off the grape vine are utilized by catbird, mockingbird, brown thrasher and cardinal in creating nests.

Native Americans utilized grapes for as a food source. They also used many parts of the grape plant for medicinal purposes. Grape vines were used by Native Americans to weave baskets and other important tools such as rope.

The leaves of the grape vary depending upon the variety of the plant. Plants such as “Summer grape” and “Winter grape” have simple heart-shaped leaves. “Red grape” has simple, palmate lobes leaves. Grape leaves are large – usually about three to five inches in width. They are slightly hairy, especially near the stem.

Grape leaves are edible, too. They can be utilized to wrap meat or rice mixtures and cooked after being stuffed.

The flowers of the grape plant will bloom in the spring and early summer, again, this is dependent upon the variety of grape. The flowers are very small and yellowish. The flowers have separate male and female blossoms that dangle from new growth on the vines.

The fruit of the plant ripens from late August through October. The fruit droops in clusters from the vines where the flowers were earlier in the year. The fruit is dark purple in color and ranges in size depending upon variety, but most of the grapes are about a quarter inch in diameter. If you have spied ripening grapes in the wild to eat, watch them closely; a wild critter is likely to nab the wild grapes as soon as they ripen.

Wild grape vines can reach 50 feet in length. They will take over trees and wind through multiple trees in the forest. In fact, a mature grape vine can kill or bring down a tree. Due to their size, grape vines can provide a lot of cover for wildlife.

In my next column, I will discuss the six different types of wild grapes found in Missouri.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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