Five Climbing Vines: Watching the Fruit Develop

In late August and the first part of September, I often find myself visiting five different large perennial climbing vines that are found in Eliza Howell. I am watching the fruit develop and ripen.

1.Virginia Creeper

Virginia Creeper berries have just recently completed the transition from green to blue.


These berries are eaten by many birds and some mammals, but humans are warned against eating them because of their toxicity.

Virginia Creeper is a woody vine, native to North America, and is found in forests and on the borders of clearings. The next picture is of a vine growing on a dead tree by the river.


2. Porcelain-berry

Many people are surprised when they first see the fruit of Porcelain-berry; we do not expect fruit to be multicolored.


These berries are reported to be safe to eat, but not very palatable. I have not yet done my own taste test.

Porcelain-berry was first imported from East Asia as an ornamental about 1870. The vines grow vigorously (apparently spread by birds dropping seeds) and can choke out other plants, including trees. It is becoming widespread in Eliza Howell, blanketing sections along open areas.


3.Oriental Bittersweet

The fruit of this vine ripens later in the year than that of the others here. Currently, it looks like this.


Also brought to the U. S. in the 1800s, Oriental Bittersweet also has the capacity to spread rapidly and to smother other species. It is not as widespread in the park as Porcelain-berry, but it is common.

Later in the Fall, the yellowish outer skin of the fruit opens to reveal the red seeds. They often hang on the vines well into the winter, when they can be an attractive addition to an after-the-snowfall scene. This picture is from early last November, not too long after they began to open.


4.Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is, of course, best known for causing a painful itchy rash for most people who touch the plant. Since getting close to the plant is usually avoided, many do not know what the fruit looks like. I have been (carefully) observing how it progresses and this is what it looks like now.


Poison Ivy vines grow high on a number of large trees in the park, with the foliage turning red in the Fall, often while the leaves of the host tree are still green. Some red is already starting to appear.


5.Wild Grape

I earlier did a post on the grapes of Eliza Howell (“Vinland,” August 9, 2018), so will not repeat that information now, but simply point out that this is what the grapes look like now.


Three of these large woody vines are native to North America; two were imported for gardens and “escaped” to the wild. Together, these five cover significant sections of the edges of wooded areas and climb many trees in the park. I find that this is a good time of the year to get to know them better, when their fruit clearly identifies them.


“Vinland,” the name early Norse (Viking) explorers gave to the areas of North America that they visited in the 11th century, is usually understood as referring to the plentiful wild grapes that they found. This year, as I have been following the annual cycle of the wild grapes in Eliza Howell Park, it appears to me that they are becoming more abundant here. With due respect to Leif Erikson, I will borrow the Vinland name for Eliza Howell Park for one post.

The earliest grapes ripen later in August and are beginning to turn purple now.


Grape vines are long-lived, great climbers, and fast growers. They are able to get to the tops of large trees and, where a chain link fence “trellis” exists, they can cover the entire fence in a few years. One place to find them in the park is on the tennis court fence.


The greenish blossoms appear in the second half of May…


…and a month later the green fruit is progressing toward full size. The vines that I check most frequently are heavily laden this year.


Wild grapes are edible (as the Norse knew very well a millennium ago), are sometimes used to make wine (as the Norse knew very well), and are also picked for making jelly. They are tart when eaten straight from the vine, but various birds eat them, including Blue Jays. The harvest can begin in a couple weeks; the next picture was taken on August 19 last year. If not picked, the fruit often remains on the vines into winter.


Mature vines are large and woody, with shedding bark. In the fall and winter when the leaves have fallen, it is easier to notice hanging from trees in the forest. Grape vine can grow 40 feet high to the canopy.


Wild grape seeds require sunlight to germinate, but can remain dormant in the soil for years waiting for the right conditions. In the shaded forest, most of the visible vines are the mature ones that have grown with the trees. When there is an opening to the sun as trees fall, new grape vines often sprout. (The vines I watch as they produce fruit are in sunnier locations in the park, with fruit closer to the ground.)

Of the various vines found in Eliza Howell, the grape vine is the largest. I was impressed when I saw this one last January; it is approximately 6 inches in diameter.


By the end of August I will likely focus less on summer fruits, as other seasonal developments, especially the fall warbler migration, take my attention. I do plan, however, to stop by my favorite grape observation spot and do my annual (one grape) tasting of the fruit of the vine.