Riverbank Grape, Vitis Riparia
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Though not everyone’s first choice for a fresh-picked grape, this wild (and ridiculously hardy) grape has several tasty uses beyond its tasty grape jelly.
AKA Fox grape, northern fox grape, plum grape, northern muscadine, swamp grape, frost grape, and wild vine.
- Cold hardiness zones: Cold hardiness zone 3-9 (can withstand cold to -40° F, or -40° C)
- Soil PH: 6.8-7.2
- Watering needs: Medium
- Blooming Season: mid-late spring
- Harvest season: August-October
- Fruiting age: 3 yearsi
- Pollination for Fruit: this grape should produce fruit on it’s own, but will produce more fruit with another grape variety, or another grape grown from seed, nearby.
- Size at maturity: 36 – 100 foot reach, or 9 – 30 meters (a high climber)
- Sun needs: full sun is preferred, but light shade is toleratedii
- Preferred habitat: A low, rich woodland, on a streambank.iii
- Growth rate (vigor): Fastiv
- Natural reproductive rate (and methods): High, mostly by seed, some by roots.
- Propagation method: Rooting branch cuttings
- Average life span: ≈ 50 – 100 yearsv
- Plant family: Vitaceae
The riverbank grape is a smallish blue-black grape. Sometimes called wild grape, the riverbank grape is possibly one of the most drought/cold/alkaline tolerant of all grapes. Though smaller and less refined in its flavor, the riverbank grape is a good choice for areas where grapes are hard to grow. It’s also a great pollinator grape to help other varieties produce more fruit. It is probably the grape most tolerant of shade, though heavy shade tends to reduce fruit yields. That said, since it is a high climber, it may successfully climb a forest to reach the sun it needs.
And what about the taste? Well, it’s not usually people’s first choice for eating fresh picked. Because it is sometimes described as a concentrated grape flavor (Maybe the taste of ten normal grapes in one riverbank grape).vi Maybe that’s why some say they love it, others not so much (they say it’s too strong and tart). Some also suggest that their flavor improves quite a bit after a good frost.vii That is very often the case with fruits whose flavor is too tart or strong.
And though the raw fruit is less popular than other grape varieties, all seem to agree that the fruit of the riverbank grape’s use for jam or jelly is great. It’s also used for a rather potent grape juice.viii
And while the fruits are probably the most popular use of riverbank grape, riverbank leaves are also edible raw or cooked.ix But those in the know say their favorite use is the little viney tendrils—the twisty little green micro-vines that grab onto branches and fences. Eaten raw or cooked, their tangy, citrusy flavor makes a tasty (and lovely)addition to salads and soups. Some describe the flavor of the tendrils as reflective of mild sweet-tarts.x
These tendrils should be harvested early, before they get the chance to wrap around something, since after doing so, they will quickly become woody and hard. At that point, they lose their flavor, and their texture makes them no longer worth eating.
The sap of the riparian grape is also quite good, and is sometimes uses as a drink. Though, since the trunk is not the thickest of tappable species, it is recommended that you tap using the branch-end method, where a branch is cut off (such as a trimming or pruning), and then a water bottle is tied to the clipped end of the branch to catch any sap that comes. And even this shouldn’t be done too heavily, or you may weaken the plant over time.xi
vhttps://mdflora.org/Resources/Documents/YearofVines/Native-Grapes-NCRN-Resource-Brief.pdf, https://homeguides.sfgate.com/long-grapevines-live-76283.html, https://www.epicgardening.com/growing-grapes/