Muscadine grapes (Vitis rotundifolia) are native to Texas and most of the southeastern United States. The U.S. Agricultural Department named muscadines, “America’s First Grape.” They were the first cultivated native grapes in the US. The oldest muscadine grapevine is currently growing in Roanoake Island, North Carolina. The “Mother Vine” is purported to be the oldest living grape vine in the world at more than 400 years and covers ½ an acre.
Muscadine grapes differ from European grapes in many ways. These grapes love the hot and humid environments of the southeastern U.S. Because the vines grow in such heat and humidity, the grapes they produce are more resistant to disease and pests than European varieties. Muscadines can also survive well in periods of drought (they do like well-draining, neutral to slightly acidic soil). Also, these grapes need very little care to not only live, but they will thrive and produce well. Muscadine grapes range in color from green to bronze to purple and are produced in small clusters of two or three (sometimes more) on the vine, but not in large bunches. These grapes are known to have thick skin, but the fruit has been improved over the last 35 years to produce sweet grapes with thinner skin. Muscadine grapes have 40 chromosomes where European grapes only have 38. Just an interesting fact to know, but I don’t think you will win a game of Trivial Pursuit with it.
Muscadine grapevines can be planted any time of year. They should be placed in full sun and watered regularly until established. These grapevines should be producing fruit within two to three years. Muscadine grapes will ripen from July to September. After fruiting, these grapevines need to be pruned severely every year. Fruit forms on new shoots that grow from the previous season’s wood. Shoots that form on older wood will usually be sterile. Muscadine grapevines will grow quite heavy and will need support in the form of a trellis or strong (no. 9 is recommended) galvanized wire.
When planting muscadine grapes, it is imperative to know if the plant is female or self-fruiting. If you plant a female variety, you do want to also plant male or self-fruiting varieties to ensure you get fruit.
Not all muscadines are scuppernongs, but all scuppernongs are muscadines. Yes, this is a true statement. Scuppernong refers to a variety of muscadine, but can also refer to all of the varieties that produce bronze color fruit. Scuppernongs were named the state fruit of North Carolina in 2001. These grapes were named after the river where they were first discovered. The word Scuppernong is from the Algonquian Indian word ascopo, which means “sweet bay tree”.
A few varieties of muscadine grapes we carry at Maas Nursery:
Carlos Bronze – self –fruiting, small to medium size bronze fruit, good for wine, juice and table grapes. Sugar content 16 %, very vigorous and productive hardy vine.
Cowart – self-fruiting, very large, blue-black fruit, good for juice and table groups
Sugar content 19%, ripens a little early, vine is vigorous and productive.
Dixie – self-fruiting, large fruit with light red skin, sugar content 18-19%, ripens mid-season, vigorous vine, good cold tolerance.
Late Fry – self-fruiting, large fruit with bronze skin, 20% sugar, ripens late in the season, very cold hardy.
**There are many more varieties of muscadine grapes, but these are very productive, hardy varieties.
Another little tidbit for your trivial pursuit knowledge:
Did you know that Texas grapes saved the French Wine industry in the late 1800’s? In the late 1800’s, 80% of French vineyards were being destroyed by a fungus. To fight this fungus, the French imported labrusca grape rootstock from the US. Unfortunately, the imported labrusca rootstock brought another problem parasite, the phylloxera root louse. Fortunately, a prominent horticulturist in Denison, TX, Dr. Thomas Volney Munson, had produced a rootstock resistant to phylloxera. It was his rootstock from Texas grapes that saved the French wine industry. So, there is a little bit of Texas in most bottles of French wine.