Vitis riparia (Riverbank Grape)
|Also known as:||Wild Grape, Frost Grape|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; average to moist soil; riverbanks, floodplain forest, wooded swamps, fence rows, woodland edges|
|Bloom season:||May - June|
|Plant height:||vine to 75 ft|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FACW NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Branching cylindric to pyramidal clusters up to 5 inches long opposite the leaves of this year's new branches, usually skipping every third leaf. Separate male and female flowers are typically on the same plant, mixed in a cluster or separate, both 1/8 inch across or less with 5 green to yellowish petals that drop off early. Male flowers have 5 long, pale, erect to ascending stamens around a tiny button center. Female flowers have a short, stubby style and 5 short stamens that are usually sterile and somewhat contorted. The calyx cupping the flower is minute; the calyx and flower stalks are hairless. Flowers are very fragrant.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are 4 to 8 inches long and nearly as wide, mostly broadly heart-shaped in outline, shallowly to deeply lobed with (usually) 3 major lobes and a broad gap between the 2 basal lobes. Edges are hairy and sharply toothed.
Young leaves are often yellowish, shiny, and covered in cobwebby hairs that disappear as they mature, the upper surface becoming hairless and green, the lower somewhat paler in color and hairy along major veins. Leaf stalks are up to 3 inches long, often reddish, and variously hairy or smooth.
New branches are yellowish-green to reddish and smooth except for a few cobwebby hairs at the nodes, and sometimes have a waxy bloom. Forked tendrils develop opposite the leaves on first year branches and become woody with age. Older bark is brown and shredding, peeling in long strips. A mature plant may have a trunk as much as 8 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) though 2 or 3 inches is more common.
The flower clusters become dangling as fruit develops. Fruit is a round berry ¼ to ½ inch in diameter, ripens from green to blue-black, and is covered in a white bloom. Inside a berry is one to 6 slightly flattened, egg-shaped seeds. Berries are often sour until after a frost, then turn more sweet-tart.
Some consider Riverbank Grape a weedy pest, sometimes creating dense masses and smothering other plants and even small trees. Though it can become aggressive along woodland edges and other disturbed areas where seed is spread, it is typically better behaved in the shadier riverbanks and mature forests where it competes well with other forest species. It is an important food source and cover for insects, birds and other wildlife, and galls may sometimes be found on the backs of leaves or along the stems. Invasive Japanese beetles like it as well, devouring the leaves and causing severe damage. Riverbank Grape is a pretty distinct species in Minnesota, only the related Summer Grape (Vitis aestivalis) is really similar: the underside of its leaves has a whitish, waxy bloom and reddish-brown, cobwebby hairs, and it has a limited range of a few southeast counties, where Riverbank Grape is found across the state. The fruit of Moonseed (Menispermum canadense) is very similar, and is poisonous, but its leaves are not toothed and the fruit has a single crescent-shaped seed inside, where Riverbank Grape has multiple egg-shaped seeds. If you're not sure, check before you eat!
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- Riverbank Grape plant
- Riverbank Grape on a spruce tree
- a wall of Riverbank Grape
- flowering Riverbank Grape
- leaves and new tendrils
- leaf with deeper lobes
- budding in spring, with woody tendrils
- damage from Japanese beetles
- Schizomyia vitiscoryloides (midge) galls
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at various locations in Minnesota.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?
on: 2016-07-13 09:53:35
The place I have found this Grape to be most common is along the bike trail in Excelsior. The berries are a little sour but they are much less bitter and sour if you do not chew the seed ,but spit them out.
on: 2017-08-15 20:30:48
The forests edge, along my (and the neighbors) back yard. St. Louis County. Birds always get the fruit before I have a chance to. High up, small fruit, not a lot, due to lack of sun exposure I am guessing.
on: 2017-12-21 10:01:08
I'm curious if there is a decline in the Wild Grape population I used to see them all over around the Anoka area near Minneapolis but since I have moved up to Hubbard County I have not seen one Wild Grape Vine.
on: 2018-06-21 07:26:29
Lots of this on our place overlooking the north branch of the Root river.
on: 2018-07-07 10:21:59
I think this is what my neighbor allows to grow on the fence that divides our yards. It is very invasive and now is coming up al love on my side also it twist around my flowers and is very hard to get off. Is it allowed on personal property since it is so invasive. It doesn't flower or produce grapes and over hangs from her short 3-4 foot fence on top of my flowers. It also attracts asian battle & other bugs. What can I do?
on: 2018-07-07 12:09:37
Cheryl, everything attracts Japanese beetles so don't blame the grape vine. Your turf grass lawn is probably a bigger attraction, since that is where the larva live and grow. For the rest, try talking to your neighbor?
on: 2018-07-12 20:21:12
This plant is very prominent in our backyard. It was a mowed 5 acre lawn for 38 years before we purchased it four years ago, but we have let the back 2.5 acres go to prairie. What grew in was tons of smooth sumac, Milk thistle, clover, fleabane, black raspberry bushes, milkweed, tall grasses, Virginia creeper, several kinds of unknown (to us) berried shrubs (with orange, bright red, or tiny green berries), and this Riverbank grape. (Thank you for the detailed photos and info, it made identifying it very easy!) This grape plant is very prominent in this prairie area of our yard and has begun to cover the newly grown shrubs, bushes, and small trees. They seem to be everywhere, with hundreds of berries. Will they overtake everything if we don't thin them back?
on: 2018-07-29 13:36:13
Growing on sandy bank of lake. Next to oak and pine trees
on: 2018-08-14 21:33:19
I have lived at my present address since 1981. The other day I was surprised to see a vine and grape clusters hanging from a tree. I found this website identifying the vine as Riverbank Grape. When is the best time to make jelly from the grapes?
on: 2018-08-16 09:46:54
I believe this is what we have growing on our property in a small wooded area. I'll have to try and get some mature fruit before the deer and wildlife eat them all.
on: 2018-08-17 20:47:03
Several years ago I made the most amazing grape jelly from frost grapes - the best I've ever tasted. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands and prepare for a day long event. Do your homework online. And be careful to identify them correctly! Lastly, good luck getting to them before our forest friends!
on: 2018-08-29 16:04:14
I beleve I have a wild grape vine crawling on a pine tree I almost to the top. But it did not produce any grapes. Do we need a male and female plant to pollinate?
on: 2018-08-29 19:17:12
Bruce, the "Flower Description" notes male and female flowers are mixed on the same plant. Maybe critters took the fruit before you had a chance.
on: 2019-06-01 11:32:32
Growing in my front ditch. Should I build a trellis for it? I have a main plant, and I pulled older runners and roots from ALL over the place. I never really worked my weedy front ditch until this summer. I'd like to make it full of pollinator stuff.
on: 2019-07-05 14:21:23
I believe Riverbank Grape is growing near me up on a bluff area above the St. Croix River, near Afton State Park. I picked a leaf from the vine to try and identify it. It's 16" x 11-1/2" including the stem. Is this size common?
on: 2019-08-02 15:32:28
I like to pair it with Boxelder(acer negundo)when they're both still saplings so it has something to grow on. Boxelder's only drawback is it doesn't produce that valuable of a fruit so it's cool that you can produce an edible fruit by pairing the two together.
on: 2020-07-23 12:36:11
This is growing in the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd, Crow Wing Cnty. We need to trim it back, but thank you for the detailed information. I like knowing it is an important food source and cover for birds and insects.
on: 2020-07-31 08:01:24
My neighbors let this grow on their fence, and it has started to take over my fence. I trim what's on my side, but it often gets ahead of me.
on: 2020-07-31 14:58:55
Grows in the tree line around the swamp. Is very invasive and overtakes smaller trees and bushes. It pulls the smaller trees down and causes them to grow at an angle. Very hard to keep up with/get rid of. I found some vines that were 2-3" wide, look like something Tarzan would swing from.
on: 2020-09-01 20:52:50
Decades ago, I started to train River Grape over an arbor; thinking it would be good shade & a food source(me & birds). Haven't been able to get enough before the birds (everyone from pileated woodpeckers to wrens) to make any quantity of jelly as they gobble them up. The "grape" flesh is very small. Unless I actively whack back vines every fall and spring, it will overtake adjoining trees and banks. Seed quickly spread by the birds. I must pull the first shoots as I see them or dig out an extensive root system. Excellent for grapevine wreaths, however, if you harvest vines green and flexible and let dry to shape.
on: 2021-05-31 11:41:23
I have used the fruit a few times to make delicious jelly. In spite of a large area I can harvest from there aren't enough grapes every year. I am seeing more buds on vines this year than ever before (so maybe I will get some.) Has anyone else observed this?
on: 2021-06-21 18:59:18
Have discovered Riverbank Grape in a suburban backyard growing under our tall Cedar hedges along with Virginia Creeper. I really want to keep it for it's value to birds but will the vine do damage to our cedar hedges?
on: 2021-07-06 14:51:55
Found a couple small vines peaking out of a grassy bank on the shore of Star Lake in Crow Wing County (about 4 miles east-southeast of the city of Cross Lake)
on: 2021-07-20 10:54:27
I have been fighting theses vines now for the last couple of years on the Mississippi Riverbank since they are overtaking everything. It seems to be a futile endeavor though. Would you have any helpful suggestions? Thank you
on: 2021-08-23 08:57:00
I remembered my parents making jelly when I was a child. I had to research to make sure it was the same thing. There is a lot of grapes this year!
on: 2021-08-27 13:42:41
Just discovered we have a bunch on our property, my plant Id app said riverbank grapes were 'unpalatable' to humans, can you really make jelly from them? If so is it best to wait for frost before harvesting?
on: 2021-08-28 08:44:42
Jessica, wild grapes are tart but certainly edible. You could wait for frost before harvesting but wildlife may get to them before then.
on: 2021-08-31 14:25:55
Have a vine growing on a trellis by my patio. The plant exploded this year with beautiful big grape bushels! It attracted swarms of hornets so I decided to pick them to cut off the hornets food supply. Well a 5 gallon bucket full of grapes later...I'm making jelly! Found this vine annoying until I discovered what one can do with the grapes! Jelly for Christmas gifts! Lololol
on: 2021-09-05 14:07:37
I'm torn about these vines. On one hand they really do seem to smother other small trees and bushes. I've been blaming them for some dead trees around the wooded areas of our yard. I don't know that they are truly to blame though. Yesterday I ripped a massive network of these vines out of some old lilac bushes and felt like it was a mistake afterwards. I like allowing the yard to be as natural as possible while keeping it neat. I think I'll just keep an eye on them to make sure they don't hop on our oak trees and let them do their thing otherwise.
on: 2022-06-27 12:29:52
Appears to be a huge field behind townhouses east of 47. They are climbing pine and deciduous trees. Will this kill the trees?
on: 2022-06-27 12:54:56
Bauer, wild grape has been coexisting with trees for centuries. I would not expect it to kill trees, but in the unnatural urban/suburban landscape it could be more aggressive than it would be in the wild.
on: 2022-07-12 17:56:25
Urban Wild Grapes do indeed grow much more aggressively than in the woods. They are harmful when they grow too fast and envelop small trees or large branches weighing them down significantly. I had to rescue a stand of birch trees that was getting snapped off by a large heavy matte of the vines covering the canopy.
Snipping off the largest trunk stem does indeed kill them off slowly. They have tendrils everywhere, but the main trunk will heavily ooze sap once you snip them with a shears or pole saw. Be sure to snip off a "Gap" in the trunk stem of more than 3-4 inches so it can't heal together and keep going.
Smaller plants on the ground are usually not a huge concern - when they get big - like lilac bushes or larger - and have good roots - that's when they shoot up a tree fast and envelop it. I have a neighbor with a huge "Umbrella" of them on a large cottonwood branch that wasn't even there two months ago, and it will need cutting or the branch will come down in another two months.