Muscadine grape vines (muscadinia rotundifolia) have been harvested since the 16th century throughout the Southeastern United States.
Not only are they a tasty snack to pick up along a hike, they also offer great health benefits.
Growing 60-100’ tall in the wild, muscadine grape vines are a woody climbing vine, but may also be seen as ground cover throughout Hilton Head Island. The heart-shaped serrated leaves can usually be seen growing on other local trees and plants. The vines are perennial, noticeable throughout the year with leaf growth dying out in the colder winter months. It is a plant that cannot stand freezes, which is why it flourishes in our Southern hot and humid environment.
Muscadine grapes are found north from New York, south to Florida and west all the way to Texas.
They begin forming in August and turn ripe throughout September and October. There are 22 varietal species of these grapes throughout the United States. Half of them are self-fertilizing. The other 11 need to be pollinated by birds or insects and develop white flowers in the late spring.
The grapes begin as a light green color and change from bronze to dark purple during their ripening stages.
When fully ripe, they are dark purple or even black. Most grapes will fall off of the vine when ripe and can be seen covering the ground of wooded areas on Hilton Head.
The Muscadine Grape vine is a wonderful resource in South Carolina ecology. While not an invasive species, it can harm other plants’ growth. It does this by spreading its own leaf growth over other foliage, hindering photosynthesis. However, it is a plant that is encouraged to grow in order to preserve our natural environment.
Providing shelter and homes for a number of animals and insects, the Muscadine also serves as a great food resource throughout the South.
Deer, raccoons, possums, squirrels and birds eat the grapes, either from the plant or on the ground. Although not commonly observed, animals who eat fermented fruit can cause quite a scene.
These grapes have a very tough skin. If being eaten in the wild, it’s easier to bite a hole into the skin and then consume the sweet insides of the grape. While the grape itself is a very healthy snack, the skins hold even more great health benefits. The pulp of Muscadine grape skins offers 40 times more antioxidants than your average red grape. It has a significant amount of dietary fiber, essential minerals, natural carbohydrates and are very low in fat. The Muscadine grape is advantageous to eat in order to avoid colon, blood and prostate cancers.
Muscadine grapes can be found in stores around the Southeast as raw grapes, jams, jellies, ciders and wines.
While the outside of the grape is dark, the inside is a light green and creates a sweet white wine, most commonly consumed for dessert. Each area that the grapes grow in provides different flavors, due to various types of soil. The Island Winery on Cardinal Road produces a great local Muscadine wine or try FireFly Muscadine Vodka, another taste staple of South Carolina, made on Wadmalaw Island, just outside of Charleston.
By Master Naturalist Kathleen McMenamin
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