Grapes have been growing on earth for the last sixty-five million years. People have cultivated these glistening juicy orbs for more than eight thousand years. Grapes are not only a taste delight, but they are beautiful to look at.
Grapes belong to the genus Vitis with about eighty different species. Each species has different cultivars that vary in their growing requirements, grape taste, and color. Grapes originally grew around the Mediterranean, central Europe, and southwest Asia. Grapes are grown in many countries around the world.
Grapes are botanically classified as berries. They can be yellow, green, black, purple, red, pink, orange, and blue. The soil and growing environment influence the taste of the grapes. Grapes are covered by skin that naturally grows yeast on the outer surface. This led to the discovery of wine-making.
Grape cultivars are grown specifically for the table, producing raisins, sultanas, currents, or making alcoholic drinks. Grape cultivars are selected for properties most suitable for the desired use.
Grapes are usually elongated spheres that grow in clusters. Many gardeners enjoy the aesthetic effects of clusters of grapes hanging from a vine. Grapes usually have seeds in the center, but seedless cultivars are available.
Grapes grow on a vine that climbs up a supporting structure. Originally grapes only grew in mild climates with warm summers, but cultivars have been developed that are more cold-tolerant.
Pokeberry belongs to the genus Phytolacca and is colloquially known as American pokeberry, pokebush, pokeweed, or pokeroot. Its full botanical name is Phytolacca americana. It is native to East Asia, North America, and South America. Phytolaccatoxin is present in all parts of the plant. It causes diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, low blood pressure, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Pokeberry plants produce purple berries, which grow in clusters, and these look just like grapes to the uneducated eye. A distinctive characteristic is that they have red stems, while grapes have brown or green stems. Children commonly mistake pokeberry for grapes, and it is essential to ensure children do not eat them.
American pokeberry is generally six to ten feet tall, although, in ideal conditions, it can grow to over twenty feet. This perennial plant has a taproot tuber which gives rise to one or more stems that thicken as the plant matures. The stems are pink to red, and the relatively large leaves are green. Flowers are white, green, pink, or purple and precede the berry formation.
Pokeweeds grow on the edges of forests and anywhere birds perch. Pokeweed is often found growing under power lines or along fences as seeds are distributed in bird droppings.
2. Riverbank Grape
Vitis riparia plants are known as riverbank grapes, frost grapes, or American wild grapes. This plant is a trailing or creeping liana or vine that occurs in Canada and the eastern parts of the United States. Riverbank grape does not tolerate salty conditions, so does not grow in coastal areas. They are generally found growing along rivers, streams, and woodlands. They grow rapidly in disturbed soil along roads and railways.
Similar to regular grapes, the stems are brown, grey, or green and shed in long strips which hang on the plant for some time. Clusters of purple berries or grapes hung in clusters form short petioles. Yellowish-green flowers precede the grapes in spring. The grapes are edible but are often sour or sharp-tasting.
Riverbank grapes have green leaves with three lobes giving them a heart shape. They have serrated (toothed) edges. The leaves are yellow and hairy when they first emerge. The leaves lose their hair and become green as they mature.
Riverbank grapes prefer full sunlight and grow in most soils. They cope with varying amounts of water and are relatively drought-tolerant. The plant is well adapted to cold weather and is a long-living plant that can dominate the surrounding plants.
3. Grape Hyacinth
Grape hyacinths have the botanical name Muscari armeniacum and are part of the Asparagaceae family. This sets them apart from true hyacinths. Grape hyacinths are found growing naturally in Europe and Asia but have been popular with gardeners worldwide for their early flowering. They are also sometimes called bluebells.
Grape hyacinths grow from bulbs and are six to nine inches tall and three to six inches wide. They have narrow green leaves and develop a flower spike or raceme early in spring. Clusters of small oval flowers surround the raceme resembling a cluster of grapes, giving rise to its common name. The flowers may be any shade of blue, with some being so dark they almost appear black.
Grape hyacinth bulbs are best planted in fall in soil with good drainage to prevent them from rotting. They are best planted in large colonies to get the maximum effect of their colorful blooms. Gardeners recommend planting them three inches deep and three inches apart. Grape hyacinths do not need special care and will spontaneously reproduce each year.
Water the bulbs in spring to start the growth and flowering period. After the initial growth, grape hyacinths only need moderate water. Care must be taken not to overwater them. They need a cool to cold winter to produce blossoms the following spring. A warm winter will stunt the growth and flowers of grape hyacinths.
Also read: Are Hyacinths Poisonous?
4. Canadian Moonseed
Canadian moonseed (Menispermum canadense) is also called common moonseed or yellow parilla and is from the family Menispermaceae. They are native to Canada, Florida, and the eastern United States.
Canadian moonseed is a climbing vine that can reach twenty feet long. It has green leaves with five lobes (palmate) but sometimes rounded, unlobed leaves are present. It grows clusters of purple-black berries similar to grapes. The berries are initially green but turn darker as they ripen. Each berry contains crescent moon-shaped seeds, which give the plant its name.
People often confuse moonseed with grapes as the leaves and berries are similar. This is a mistake with serious consequences, as Canadian moonseed is toxic. All parts of the Canadian moonseed plant are toxic, containing an alkaloid called dauricine. It causes edema, hemorrhaging, and cell death in the lungs. Canadian moonseed should be kept out of reach of children and pets, as poisoning can be fatal.
Canadian moonseed plants are vigorous growers and can become invasive and difficult to control. It grows best in moist loamy soil with partial sunlight. It is a hardy plant that grows from the coast through the plains to the mountains.
5. Cape Grape
The Cape grape (Rhoicissus tomentosa) has many other names. It is also called the African wild grape, bush grape, forest grape, and monkey rope. It occurs in the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, the eastern coast of South Africa, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Cape grape plants always grow along the edges of forests or heavily wooded riverbanks.
The Cape grape grows on a liana or vine and can easily reach more than sixty-five feet in length. It grows up trees into the topmost branches and loops from one treetop to another. The bark is brownish-grey, and new growth is initially hairy. It bears dark red-purple berries that resemble grapes.
Cape grapes are edible but can be quite acidic, having a sharp taste. The inside of the fruit is white or pinkish. Small creamy green flowers precede the berries. The leaves are simple and have no divisions. Their upper surface is dark olive green, and the underside is covered in rusty-colored hairs.
The berries are popular with wildlife. Cape grapes can be eaten raw or used to make jellies or wine.