This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Greenish, small, deliciously fragrant, some staminate, some pistillate, rarely perfect; the fertile flowers in more compact panicles than the sterile ones. Stem: Climbing with the help of tendrils; woody, bark loose. Leaves: Large, rounded or lobed, toothed, rusty-hairy underneath, especially when young, each leathery leaf opposite a tendril or a flower cluster. Fruit: Clusters containing a few brownish, purple, musky-scented grapes, 3/4 in. across. Ripe, August - September.
Preferred Habitat - Sunny thickets, loamy or gravelly soil.
Flowering Season - June.
Distribution - New England to Georgia, west to Minnesota and Tennessee.
Ęsop's fox may never have touched the grapes of fable, but this, our wild species, certainly retains a strong foxy odor, which at least suggests that he came very near them. Tough pulp and thick skin by no means deter birds and beasts from feasting on this fruit, and so dispersing the seeds; but mankind prefers the tender, delightful flavored Isabella, Catawba, and Concord grapes derived from it. The Massachusetts man who produced the Concord variety in the town whose name he gave it, declares he would be a millionaire had he received only a penny royalty on every Concord grape-vine planted.
What fragrance is more delicious than that of the blossoming grape? To swing in a loop made by some strong old vine, when the air almost intoxicates one with its sweetness on a June evening, is many a country child's idea of perfect bliss. Not until about nine o'clock do the leaves " go to sleep " by becoming depressed in the centre like saucers. This was the signal for bedtime that one child, at least, used to wait for. We have seen in the clematis (p. 182) how its sensitive leaf-stalks hook themselves over any support they rub against; but the grape-vine has gone a step farther, and by discarding an occasional flower cluster and prolonging the flower stalk into a coiling, forking tendril it moors itself to the thicket. We know that all tendrils are either transformed leaves, as in the case of the pea vine, where each branch of its tendril represents a modified leaflet; or they are transformed flower-stalks or other organs. Occasionally the tendril of a grapevine reveals its ancestry by bearing a blossom or a cluster of flowers, and sometimes even fruit, about midway on the coil, which attempts to fill all offices at once like Pooh Bah.
The phylloxera having destroyed many of the finest vineyards in Europe, it would seem that Americans have the best of chances to supply the world with high-class wines, for there is not a State in the Union where the vine will not flourish. Here its worst enemy is mildew, a parasitical fungus which attacks the leaves, revealing itself in yellowish-brown patches on the upper side, and thin, frosty patches underneath. Soon the leaves become sere, and then they fall. The microscope reveals a miniature forest of growth in each leaf, with the threadlike roots of the fungi searching about the leaf-cells for food. To burn old leaves, and to blow sulphur over the vine while it is wet, are efficacious remedies. Bees and wasps which puncture grapes to feast on them, are the innocent means of destroying quantities.
Both the Riverside or Sweet-scented Grape (V. vulpina) - formerly V. cordifolia, var. riparia - whose bluish-black, bloom-covered fruit begins to ripen in July; and the Frost, Chicken, Possum, or Winter Grape (V. cordifolia), whose smaller, shining black berries are not at their best till after frost, grow along streams and preferably in rocky situations. The shining, light green, thin leaves of the sweet-scented species are sharply lobed, the three to seven lobes have acute teeth, and the tendrils are intermittent. The frost grape's leaves, which are commonly three or four inches wide, are deeply heart-shaped, entire (rarely slightly three-lobed), tapering to a long point and acutely toothed.
Another familiar member of the Grape family, the Virginia Creeper, False Grape, American or Five-leaved Ivy, also erroneously called Woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) - formerly Ampelopsis quinquefolia - is far more charming in its glorious autumnal foliage, when its small dark blue berries hang from red peduncles, than when its insignificant greenish flower clusters appear in July. The leaves, compounded of five leaflets, should sufficiently distinguish the harmless vine from the three-leaved poison ivy, sometimes confounded with it. From Manitoba and Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, and even in Cuba, the Virginia creeper rambles over thickets, fences, and walls, ascends trees, festoons rocky woodlands, drapes our verandas, making its way with the help of modified flower-stalks that are now branching tendrils, each branch bearing an adhesive disk at the end. "In the course of about two days after a tendril has arranged its branches so as to press upon any surface," says Darwin, "its curved tips swell, become bright red, and form on their under sides little disks or cushions with which they adhere firmly." It is supposed that these disks secrete a cement. At any rate, we know that they have a very tenacious hold, because often one contracting tendril, as elastic as a steel spring, supports, by means of these little disks, the entire weight of the branch it lifts up. Darwin concluded that a tendril with five disk-bearing branches, on which he experimented, would stand a strain of ten pounds, even after ten years' exposure to high winds and softening rains.