Common Name: Muscadine, Scuppernong, Bullace, Bull Grape, Bird Grape, Munson’s Grape, Southern Fox Grape, White Grape, Fruit of the Mother Vine
Scientific Name: Vitis rotundifolia
Family: Vitaceae (the Grape family)

Americans are rediscovering this native grape!

Americans are rediscovering this native grape!

Description:
I’ve been planning on planting a large number of Muscadines for a long time, and recently Jack Spirko published a podcast discussing Muscadines, and so I thought I would elaborate on the topic. This North American native is at home in the humid southeastern parts of the continent, and these grapes thrive in conditions where the more temperamental European grapes struggle. They are vigorous, produce high yields (over 100 lbs/45 kg per vine!), can be eaten fresh, produce amazing preserves and wines, can be dried like raisins, and have edible leaves. This is a great vining option that will add diversity to your diet and your biome!

 

Muscadines

John J. Audomon’s Summer Tanagers eating Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia)

History:
Muscadines are native to southeastern North America. The natural range stretches from Florida to Delaware (but much more infrequent north of Virginia) and west to Texas. Native Americans used these fruits for fresh eating, juice, and dried as raisins for Winter food. Thomas Jefferson planted Muscadines at Monticello. Muscadine wine (including a fortified port-style wine) became a large industry in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but Prohibition severely crippled it, and it never recovered. There are a number of Muscadine Wine producers now, but it is seen as more of a novelty than a standard, although there are a number of wineries hoping to change that. There have also been a large number of improved cultivars that have sweeter and thinner skinned fruits which have growing appeal for fresh eating.

Muscadines can be very large compared to what most people think of grapes.

Muscadines can be very large compared to what most people think of grapes.

Trivia:

  • Muscadines don’t form the typical tight bunches of grapes like the classic wine and table grapes. Instead, they form loose clusters of 3-40 grapes.
  • Muscadines are all seeded with up to 5 hard seeds. The exception is the Fry Seedless, but these fruit are small and require chemical application for the fruit to grow to size.
  • There are over 300 Muscadine cultivars grown in the U.S.
  • Some Muscadines are self-fertile, but many are considered “female” or “self-sterile”. These plants produce pistils but no stamens (called “pistillate”), so they need a self-fertile (or “perfect” flowered plant) for fertilization. There are no “male” Muscadines (i.e. a plant that produces flowers with only stamens but no pistils, i.e. “staminate”).
  • Self-fertile plants do not need cross-pollination to set fruit.
  • Some self-fertile cultivars are: Alachua, Albermarle, Bountiful, Burgaw, Carlos, Cowart, Delite, Dixie Red, Doreen, Duplin, Fry Seedless, Golden Isles, Granny Val, Ison, Janebell, Janet, Late Fry, Magnolia, Magoon, Nesbit, Noble, Pineapple, Polyanna, Redgate, Regale, Roanoke, Southland, Southern Home, Sterling, Tara, Tarheel, Triumph, Welder.
  • Female plants need to be planted within 50 feet (15 meters) of a self-fertile plant to ensure good fruit production.
  • Cultivars that are more cold-hardy include Magnolia, Carlos, and Sterling.
  • In 1524, a green-bronze Muscadine was found growing along the Scuppernong River in North Carolina. Since then, many people mistakenly call all bronze Muscadines “scuppernongs”, but this is not accurate. The Scuppernong is one named variety. So all Scuppernongs are Muscadines, but all bronze Muscadines are not Scuppernongs.
  • The “Mother Vine”  is a Scuppernong vine that has been growing since at least the 1720’s (but possibly from as early as 1584!) on the northern end of Roanoke Island, North Carolina. It is the oldest known Muscadine vine in the world.
  • Muscadines have high GDH (Growing Degree Hours). This means, in general, Muscadines need long, warm days to reach maximum production. This is not surprising when we consider Muscadines are native to the southeastern United States. It is important to keep this in mind when choosing a variety, as some are more cold tolerant than others.
  • Muscadine cultivars are also evaluated by percentage of “dry scars” on the fruit harvest. The scar is the wound that is left when the fruit is picked off the vine. If the scar is “wet”, this means that the fruit can dry out and/or will start to rot faster (i.e. has a low storage/shelf life). If the scar is “dry”, this means that the wound seals over fast, and this fruit will store longer. Some examples of cultivars with “dry” scars include: Albermarle, Bountiful, Delite, Excel, Golden Isles, Granny Val, Hunt, Loomis, Magoon, Nesbit, Pride, Roanoke, Scarlet, Southern Home, Summit, and Welder. Some examples of cultivars with “very dry” scars include: Carlos, Florida Fry, Fry Seedless, Late Fry, Polyanna, and Tara.
  • The sugar content in Muscadines can range from very low (12-13%) to very high (20-23%). Some cultivars with high sugar content include: Albermarle, Bountiful, Darlene, Dixie, Early Fry, Pam, Rosa, Scarlet, Southland, Summit, Sweet Jenny, Tara, and Triumph. Some cultivars with very high sugar content include: Doreen, Florida Fry, Fry Seedless, Janet, Late Fry, Magoon, and Sugargate.
  • One reason Muscadine wine has not been promoted as much is because of its natural browning. This is when the wine, both white and red, slowly turn to a brownish color. There is no change in flavor, but marketers fear brown wines won’t sell. There may be some truth to that, but that isn’t going to stop me from making wine from my Muscadines!

 

Most cultivars of Muscadine are perfect for fresh eating!

Most cultivars of Muscadine are perfect for fresh eating!

Although many prefer to make Muscadine wine from the fruits!

Although many prefer to make Muscadine wine from the fruits! Click on the photo to see more on this wine.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – While the skins are edible, most people do not like to eat them. This is because most varieties have thick skins; people either suck the fruit from the skin or spit the skin out. There are thin-skinned varieties that have been developed which have skins that are significantly more palatable.
  • Cooked –  Preserves, jellies, jams, fruit leathers (may need to be mixed with more fibrous fruit juices/pulps), compotes, and desserts.
  • Dried – Muscadine Raisins! In a small study looking at three cultivars, Noble was chosen as the best raisin Muscadine.
  • Syrup – This is another use of Muscadines and can be used in salad dressings, desserts, and drinks.
  • Juice – This is a growing market as the juice is very high polyphenols and other antioxidants.
  • Primary or secondary/adjunct flavoring in wines, cordials, liqueur, and other alcoholic beverages, including beers.

 

Muscadine leaves can be used just like European grape leaves.

Muscadine leaves can be used just like European grape leaves. Click on the photo for a great recipe from herbalist and psychotherapist, Holli Richey!

Secondary Uses:

  • Medicinal Plant – While the fruit contains many healthful antioxidants, the seeds are being researched for stronger medicinal benefits.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves can be dried and used as a tea or used with herbal tea mixes.
  • Edible Leaves – The young leaves are edible and can be used just like “regular” grape leaves. See photo/recipe above.
  • Edible Sap – I could only fine a few sources for this bit of information, but reportedly, the sap can be harvested from a cut vine. This is said to be a “coolly refreshing drink”, but may weaken or kill the stem/vine.
  • Dye Plant – The leaves have been used as a natural yellow dye.
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the fruit, especially birds!
  • General insect nectar plant.

 

Many animals enjoy Muscadines as much as humans! Here is a Giant Leopard Moth ( Hypercompe scribonia).

Many animals enjoy Muscadines as much as humans! Here is a Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia).

Yield: Variable depending on the cultivar and variety. In one study performed in Mississippi, yields ranged from 15 lbs (7 kg) to 115 lbs (52 kg) with most cultivars yielding 55 lbs (25 kg) to 77 lbs (35 kg) of fruit per vine. That is a lot of fruit!
Harvesting: Harvesting can begin in the third growing season; all flower clusters should be removed for the first two years to establish a healthy vine. Muscadines are harvested when the fruit is ripe, in late Summer and Autumn (depending on location), and are typically picked one fruit at a time (not in bunches like bunch grapes). The fruit is ripe when it falls easily off the stem and has a pleasant, sweet fragrance. The fruit will not ripen more after picked, so avoid picking unripe fruit. Another harvesting method takes advantage of Muscadines tendency to drop when ripe. A tarp or sheet can be placed under the vine, and the vine given a hard shake, and ripe fruit will fall onto the tarp making for easier harvest.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. A few cultivars can be stored for about a week, but this depends on the cultivar.

 

Muscadine jelly is a Southern treat!

Muscadine jelly is a Southern treat!

Muscadine seeds are being investigated for their health benefits (thought to be almost identical to European grape seeds).

Muscadine seeds are being investigated for their health benefits (thought to be almost identical to European grape seeds).

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-10
AHS Heat Zone: 11-6
Chill Requirement: 200-600 units (or hours below 45°F/7°C).

Plant Type: Vine
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Vertical/Climbing Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are hundreds of varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile or Female plants. Pollinated by wind and insects. There is some debate about honeybees pollinating Muscadines as I have seen conflicting reports in horticultural literature.
Flowering: Spring-Summer depending on the location.

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2-3 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 4-5 years
  • Years of Useful Life: 20+ years.
The flower clusters should be removed for the first 2 years to promote healthy vines.

The flower clusters should be removed for the first 2 years to promote healthy vines.

Muscadine flowers are pollinated via wind and insects.

Muscadine flowers are pollinated via wind and insects.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: Up to 100 feet (30 meters) in length
Roots: Most grapes have a large portion of shallow, fibrous roots with some deep roots that can grow 20 feet (6 meters) down into the subsoil. Roots can spread laterally up to 33 feet (10 meters) from the vine, and it is likely that the longer Muscadine vines’ roots may be larger.
Growth Rate: Fast

Muscadine leaves can be eaten like European grape leaves.

Muscadine leaves can be eaten like European grape leaves.

Muscadines don't cluster like European grapes.

Muscadines don’t cluster like European grapes.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade, but fruit yield decreases significantly in the shade.
Moisture: Moist and well-drained soils is preferred. Avoid areas with standing water, as Muscadines cannot tolerate wet ground for long.
pH: 5.5-6.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • It is reported that irrigation is not needed in areas with at least 30 inches of rain (not surprisingly, this is typical for the areas where Muscadines originate). If there is no rain for more than 60 days, then supplemental watering is needed. If your region has dry summers, then irrigation for establishment is recommended for the first 2-4 years.
  • Female plants need to be planted within 50 feet (15 meters) of a self-fertile plant to ensure good fruit production.

Propagation:

Typically from layering of developed varieties, usually in Summer. Can be propagated via cuttings, but this is reportedly more difficult. Muscadines can be easily propagated via seed as well, but you may or may not get a good-tasting fruit. 1-2 months of cold stratification is recommended to increase germination rates.

Maintenance: 

  • For maximum fruit production, pruning and training are required. Pruning should be done when the plant is dormant (Winter) or the cut vine will heavily bleed.
  • Training to a trellis system is the most common method of growing Muscadines, but they will grow on fences, shrubs, and trees as well.

Concerns:
None

 

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Photo References:

  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-PEMDwGLbae0/Tl5S_qwObRI/AAAAAAAAADE/0q4wRZutFgo/s1600/IMG_4573.JPG
  • http://www.alcoholprofessor.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Muscadine-grapes-Wills-Creek-Winery.jpg
  • https://static.squarespace.com/static/52cc3095e4b083c53db90757/52d050d8e4b0c550db39dbab/52d050d9e4b0c550db39ddc1/1346026320093/1000w/Muscadine-seeds.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-KVY5zc1Wflo/UBm55VY2PVI/AAAAAAAAALI/zaigPsPcVxU/s1600/hcoutdoors.com+105.jpg
  • https://hollirichey.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/img_4007.jpg
  • http://blog.emergencyoutdoors.com/tala/uploads/2012/07/muscadine-05.jpg
  • https://happyhealthypurposed.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/istock_grapes1.jpg
  • http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/1403813/18419297/1338005919080/IMG_1284+2.jpg?token=SCM%2BjW1TU%2BWhWu2gjcd15zB4sxM%3D
  • http://i.imgur.com/5nbzI.jpg
  • http://www.caes.uga.edu/commodities/fruits/muscadines/cultivars/scuppernong/scuppernong_hand.jpg
  • https://mmmbrews.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/dsc05973.jpg
  • https://msfruitextension.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/april302012poplarville-008.jpg
  • https://tateshellblackwaterriverstateforeststs.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/p1010594.jpg
  • http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Muscadines1.jpg