Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wild Grapes

Wild Grapes occur throughout Ohio and are quite common. These fruit are edible, though a bit tart for some. Wine can be made from our species, but it's not as desirable when compared to the more cultivated varieties.

Grape vines grow by means of tendrils. Curly structures that act like a little bull whip. When they reach another plant, they twine around it, tightening its hold, and pulling the plant upward.

With age the bark will become shredded or shaggy. They commonly hang from high up in trees. As kids, we called them Tarzan vines.

Here is a local vine measuring 8 inches in diameter. That's big for a grape!

When growing, some grape vines may look a little like old Virginia Creeper vines. Pathenocissus vines stay attached to the trunks of trees, while grapes grow freely. Although they are in the same family, Virginia Creeper fruits are poisonous. Little red stems warn you to stop and not eat them.

There are about 6 species of grapes in Ohio, three of which are more common in the Athens County area. Most grapes have broad round leaves like this, with three to five main veins radiating out in a palmate like pattern. This is Frost Grape, Vitis vulpina. Due to the latin name, it's also known as the Fox Grape. Common names of grapes are often used to describe other species.

Of the three grapes I'm covering, this species has the smallest or most uniform teeth around the margin of the leaf. The leaves are most often unlobed. If lobed at all, there will be three very shallow lobes. The fruit is plain blue, without any white coating. This is one of the tart species. After the first 'frost' in the fall, they become sweeter. Look for it in any disturbed site.

Vitis labrusca, the other fox grape, has leaves similar to this, and is found along Lake Erie and the southern most counties of Ohio. It's leaves are fuzzy underneath and coated with orange colored hairs. It's fruit are larger than these other species, and is often crossed with other wine producing grapes.

In contrast, Vitis riparia, the Riverbank Grape, has some of the largest, outward pointing teeth along the margin. Besides disturbed ground, look for it in lowlands or along water edges.

The leaf surface and petioles are hairless in the most common varieties. There may be some slight hair along the main veins underneath. The blue fruits are covered with a slight white coating.

Here is Frost Grape on the left, and Riverbank Grape in the back and center.

Vitis aestivalis, the Summer Grape is the other common species here. The leaves are usually lobed, and the texture of the leaf is hairy.

The fuzzy wooly feel is especially noticeable on the undersides. That's not a white glaucous coating, just a large amount of hairs. There is a variety of this species called Silverleaf Grape. It has a chalky coating underneath, but no hairs.

Summer Grape commonly shows these deeply lobed varieties. The bottom of the sinus is rounded. Other lobed grapes have a sharp curved sinus.

Vitis cinerea, the Winter Grape, is scattered around Ohio, but mostly found along the Ohio River counties. Its leaves and twigs are covered in gray hairs, but the leaves do not have these deep lobes, and the twigs are angled rather than round.

In the spring, leaves may look, and even feel similar to one another. It's best to let them mature before determining which species you have.


  1. I don't comment a whole lot, but I felt I should show my appreciation. Your blog entries are chock-full of information, much of which I can't find easily in my field guides. I especially enjoy the blogs on various families (grapes, roses, etc). I just learned (from reading your entries) that multiflora rose stipules resemble centipedes while native roses look like the two-finger peace symbol. Little stuff like that I never forget! Thanks!

  2. what kind of disease do grape arbors get

  3. what kind of disease do grape arbors get