The wild grapes are ripe!
While out hiking, I feel it’s a privilege to pick a small cluster of wild grapes and eat them as a refreshing snack. Some of my students have complained about the seeds, but they are easy to spit out. Of course they have seeds, unlike the big green and red grapes we buy at supermarkets.
A grapevine is a climbing, woody perennial best recognized by its alternate simple leaves that are toothed, lobed and maple-like, and by its purple-seeded berries that grow in bunches. Grapevines need sunlight and will reach far to get it, sometimes harming trees and shrubs over which they climb.
Wild grapes are found in thickets, edges of forests and along streams, and the fruit becomes ripe in August.
About 60 bird species eat the fruit of the wild grape including the wood duck, ring-necked pheasant, eastern bluebird, northern cardinal, American crow, Baltimore oriole, American robin, gray catbird, brown thrasher, cedar waxwing and red-bellied woodpecker.
Black bears, both gray and red foxes, opossums, and raccoons also relish wild grapes. Even the old, dried clusters are sought in winter by the birds and other wild animals. In summer, the dense foliage provides shelter cover and nesting sites for birds.
The wild version can be used for any recipe that calls for grapes, but because it’s tart, it generally needs more sweetening than cultivated grapes when made into juice, jelly and syrup.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.