Wild grapes are now offering hikers a refreshing snack. A grape vine is a climbing, woody perennial best recognized by its lobed, maple-like leaves and by its purple berries that grow in bunches and contain seeds. Grapevines need sunlight and will reach far to get it, sometimes harming the trees over which they climb.
Found in thickets, on the edges of forests and along streams, wild grapes become ripe in August. They can be used for any recipe that calls for grapes, but since they are more tart than cultivated varieties, they generally need more sweetening when used for juices, jellies and syrups.
The fruit of the wild grape is eaten by about 60 bird species, including the wood duck, ring-necked pheasant, eastern bluebird, northern cardinal, American crow, Baltimore oriole, American robin and gray catbird. In addition, black bears, gray and red foxes, opossums and raccoons are some of the wild mammals that relish the juicy wild grapes. Even the old, dried clusters are sought during winter by birds and other wild animals. In the summer the dense foliage provides good escape and shelter cover as well as nesting sites for birds. The bark of grapevines is often used in nests.
Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio Sundays at 7:15 a.m. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.