Vinland

“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.

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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.

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The greenish blossoms appear in the second half of May…

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.