Native North American Grapes
Vitis Rotundifolia

bunch grapes

"The Muscadine, Scuppernong and Bullace grapes make mean wines."




Vitis Rotundifolia

Vitis Rotundifolia (Michaux): Commonly, the American Muscadine, Arkansas Grape, Big White Grape, Black Grape, Bull Grape, Bullace Grape, Bullet Grape, Bullit Grape, Bush Grape, Bushy Grape, Currant Grape, Flowers Grape, Green Muscadine, Hickman's Grape, Muscadine Grape, Muscadinia Rotundifolia, Mustang Grape, Roanoke Grape, Scuppernong Grape, Southern Fox Grape, Warty Grape, White Grape, White Muscadine, White Musky Grape, and Yellow Muscadine; botanically, the Vitis Acerifolia (Le Conte), Vitis Angulata (Le Conte), Vitis Callosa, Vitis Cordifolia, Vitis Hyemalis, Vitis Incisa (Rafinesque), Vitis Muscadina (Rafinesque), Vitis Mustangensis, Vitis Peltata (Rafinesque), Vitis Rotundifolia Flowers, Vitis Rotundifolia Scuppernong, Vitis Taurina (Bartram), Vitis Verrucosa (Muhlenberg), and Vitis Vulpina (Linnaeus).

Description

General: A vigorous climber attaining great breadth in spread and girth of central vine, ideally capable of 30-60 feet of growth per year. When without support, it can grow shrubby and only 3-4 feet high, yet trailing vines will grow outward in search of support. When growing in shade, the vine will often send down aerial roots which may or may not reach the ground. The wood is hard and bark smooth, not scaling except in old age, frequently with prominent warty lenticels. Shoots are short-jointed, angled, with short pubescence. Leafing, flowering and ripening fruit very late.

Leaves: Below medium in size, broadly cordate or roundish, not lobed. Margin with obtuse, wide teeth. Dense texture, light-green color, smooth above and below and sometimes with slight pubescence along veins underneath.

Grapes: Small (6-24 berries) loose clusters of large, globular or somewhat oblate, black or greenish-yellow (bronze) berries. Skin usually thick, tough and with a musky odor. Pulp is rather tough but not localized around two to four large, boat-shaped seeds. Berries ripen unevenly and drop as soon as ripe.

Distinguishing: Diaphrams absent through pith at joints and tendrils are intermittent and simple, not forked.


Habitat

"The climate most suitable for Rotundifolia is that in which cotton grows and it thrives best in the lower portions of the cotton belt of the United States" (U.P. Hedrick). The habitat of this species is from southern Delaware to southern Illinois, southby southwest to northeastern Texas, south to the Gulf, and east to the Atlantic. It is most abundant on sandy, well-drained bottom lands and along river banks and in swamps, thick woodlands and thickets. They tolerate hot summers but do not withstand drought and do not adapt well to semi-arid conditions.


Age

Under reasonably favorable conditions the vines reach great age and size. As I mentioned elsewhere, Sir Walter Raleigh's colony is credited with discovering the famed Scuppernong variety's "mother-vine" on Roanoke Island around 1584-85. The vine had a trunk two feet thick and covered half an acre. During the American Civil War, troops garrisoning Roanoke Island noted the "mother-vine" was still there and growing strong. The tree that had supported it 280 years earlier had long since died and rotted away, leaving the great vine's mass elevated above the earth like the skeleton of a giant geodesic dome. It, along with some neighboring vines, supplied the Mother Vineyard Winery, which operated in Manteo, NC until 1954.


Horticultural Considerations

Rotundifolia is remarkably resistant to the attacks of all insects and fungal diseases. Phylloxera do not attack its roots and it is the most resistant of all American species. It would therefore be the ideal rootstock candidate for Vinifera grafts were it not for the fact that it will rarely accept a graft from any but its own species. See my Vitis -- One Genus or Two? for a genetic explanation for this behavior.


Cultivars and Hybrids

Cultivated and hybrid varieties of Vitis Rotundifolia that birds sometimes transfer to the wild are Black Beauty, Black Fry, Bountiful, Carlos, Chief, Cowart, Darlene, Dearing, Delight, Dixie, Doreen, Florida Fry, Fry, Higgins, Hunt, Ison, Janebell, Janet, Jumbo, Loomis, Magnolia, Nesbitt, Noble, Pineapple, Regale, Scuppernong, Sterling, Summit, Supreme, Sweet Jenny, Tara, Tarheel, and Triumph. My information is limited to the more proven varieties still cutlivated today.

Carlos: A self-fertile bronze with small fruit. The skin is medium in thickness, the flavor pleasant. Production is heavy to over-productive. Carlos is a good bronze variety for winemaking and recommended for commercial use.

Cowart: A self-fertile black with very large berries in very large clusters. Disease resistant. Vines are vigorous. The largest self-fertile variety. Production level and commerical value are good. The variety makes a decent wine.

Fry: A gendered bronze, best planted (females only) in rows intermingled with self-fertile varieties. The berries are small, skin medium, and flavor pleasant. Production is heavy to over-productive. Fry is a good bronze variety for winemaking and recommended for commercial use.

Scuppernong: A gendered bronze, best planted as recommended for Fry. Berries are medium to large with clusters that are medium in size. The skin is medium to thin (by james key). This variety ripens early and is the best known and most widely grown variety of Rotundifolia. It is sweet with an excellent and distinctive flavor. The oldest cultivated variety, but still one of the best.

Hunt: A gendered black, best planted as recommended for Fry. Berries are medium to large with large, early ripening clusters. Quality is excellent, and Hunt is the variety most other varieties compare to. Hunt is still one of the best all-purpose varieties. It is excellent for wine, unfermented juice, jelly, hull preserves and all other commercial purposes. It is highly recommended for both home and commercial use.

Jumbo: Another gendered black, best planted as recommended for Fry. Berries were once the largest of any Rotundifolia variety that has been cultivated commercially. Clusters are large, quality is good, and production level is also good. Disease resistance is excellent. Fruit ripens in the mid to late season irregularly over several weeks, making it an excellent variety for home use.




Last update was April 21st, 2002.


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