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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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- 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?