Thursday, September 24, 2009

A bounty of grapes

Wild grapes, also called fox grapes, are looking pretty ripe on Roundtop right now. It looks as though they will be especially abundant this year. In fact, the year is looking like a good one for various nuts of just about all kinds—especially hickory nuts and acorns, which are regularly and loudly falling onto the roof of the cabin right now.

The wild grapes native to the eastern U.S. are the starting stock for Concord grapes, I’ve read, and when I look at these tiny purple bunches of them, I can see that. And tiny is what they are, though the photo makes them look larger. A fox grape is about the size of a baby pea.

I’ve been told that there’s a poisonous grape called Canadian Moonseed that looks very similar and has much the same range. However, you can tell the two apart by the seed. The moonseed has a seed shaped like a crescent moon (hence its name). Fox grapes have a round seed. I’ve never found the poisonous variety here on Roundtop, though I don’t go around checking every plant I see either.

Eating moonseed grapes can be fatal, so if you are inclined to eat fox grapes, I would check a seed in every bunch to make sure you’ve got the right ones. Apparently, the moonseed grapes have a "rank" flavor, too, and why anyone would continue to eat something that’s rank is beyond me. Fox grapes are not rank.

Mostly, I don’t eat fox grapes, though I have tasted them. Sometimes they are great, sometimes they don’t seem to have a lot of flavor. Animals love them, and I’ve found it’s uncommon to get to a ripe bunch before some bird or, well, fox. They look pretty, though, don’t they? The forest provides berries in the spring and now that it’s fall, the animals will eat their fill of fox grapes. The forest has its own kind of harvest season.


The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

We have at least six species of wild grapes growing here in Ohio: Vitis riparia (Riverbank), Vitis vulpina (Frost Grapes), Vitis labrusca (Fox Grapes), Vitis aestivalis (Summer Grape), Vitis cinerea (Pigeon), Vitis baileyana (Possum Grapes).

In fact, my river-facing deck, from the top of the handrail all the way down to the water (or gravel if the river is low), a distance of perhaps 14 feet, is a solid mass of river grapes. These are river grapes (what else?), and pretty small. But over on the island are some fox grapes that grow pretty large—not quite as big as a marble, but much bigger than a pea—and quite tasty. You have to beat the critters to 'em, though.

BTW, I've never seen a moonseed, either.

Anonymous said...

Berries are dangerous! Your berry picture is lovely though :)

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Six species of grapes! I guess I've never paid that much attention to them. or perhaps it's only that I have the one kind.

Carolyn H.

Carolyn H said...

letspaintnature: Berries certainly can be dangerous, but I'm more confident with most of them than with mushrooms. Mushrooms scare me--at least when it comes to picking and eating them in the wild.

Carolyn h.

RuthieJ said...

Hmmmm, I didn't know there were so many different kinds of wild grapes. I'm glad mine are the edible kind because I was able to get enough of them for another big batch of jelly (before the birds ate them all!)