The wild grape is a native perennial vine found around most of Minnesota, except in the far north.It likes forest edges, most notably along lakeshores and river banks.Clusters of round, juicy, dark blue to purple edible berries ripen in early August. They are there for the picking through October. Each berry contains two to six seeds.The vines like full sun to light shade and grow to about 50 feet, climbing trees, shrubs, or fences and sometimes spreading on the ground in open areas.Wild grapes can be used for any recipe that calls for grapes, but because they are tart they need more sweetening than cultivated grapes.

More than 50 wild bird species eat the grapes. Among them: ruffed grouse; ring-necked pheasants; wild turkeys; northern cardinals; Baltimore orioles; American robins; brown thrashers; cedar waxwings; both pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers; American crows; and blue jays.Black bears, both gray and red foxes, opossums, and raccoons also go for the fruit.Even the old, dried grape clusters left over in winter feed birds and wild animals.

Several other observations:

  • A few ruby-throated hummingbirds appeared at southern Minnesota feeders; they will soon be gone.Their wintering locations range from south Texas to Costa Rica.Whitetail deer have begun wearing their gray-brown winter coats.Black bears will begin to hibernate. Common loons will assemble on large lakes before migrating to the Gulf Coast or Atlantic seaboard.The rutting season for moose occurs from mid-September to mid-October.
  • In the garden, ever-bearing strawberries and fall-bearing raspberries continue to produce ripe fruit.Farmers in the western and southern parts of the state are busy combining soybeans.The native Virginia creeper vines are draped through trees and on fences like red garlands.
  • Fall foliage colors are peaking across extreme northern Minnesota.On and around Sept. 25 each year, Oberg Mountain near Tofte, Minn., offers wonderful views of Lake Superior and surrounding forests. The spot attracts photographers, landscape painters and others mesmerized by nature's handiwork.Sugar maples are ablaze with red and burnt-orange leaves, paper birches display golden-yellow, and moose maple foliage is red, orange and yellow.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.