260 Vitis rotundifoliaCommon Names: muscadine, scuppernong, bullace Family: Vitaceae (grape Family)
The muscadine grape, or just plain muscadine, grows on a large vigorous vine that climbs and clings with coiled tendrils that wrap tightly around anything they can reach. The vines are woody, and the slightly lobed triangular leaves are deciduous. Old vines can be 6" or more in diameter and grow more than 100' into the tops of the tallest pines and oaks. The grapes (technically berries) have thick black, dark purple or bronze skins, and soft musky flavored pulp. Muscadine fruits grow in small clusters rather than in the large bunches characteristic of other kinds of grapes. Important muscadine cultivars include the old standards 'Scuppernong', 'Hunt' and Thomas', and many new introductions including 'Carlos', Cowart', 'Noble', 'Alachua', 'Black Beauty', 'Dearing', 'Jumbo' and 'Southland'. Unfortunately, breeders still have not come up with a seedless muscadine.
Muscadine grapes, Vitis rotundifolia, are native to eastern North America, from Delaware south throughout Florida and west to Kansas and Mexico. They grow like weeds in almost all forests, parks, roadsides, and in fact anywhere there are trees or bushes to climb on. Where climbing structures are absent, muscadines sprawl along the ground. Many of the cultivated muscadines, grown mainly in Georgia, Alabama and Florida, were selected from plants found growing in the wild.
CultureSome muscadine varieties are self-fertile. If you want to grow varieties that are female only, be sure to plant a self-fertile variety every third vine. Muscadines are usually planted as one- or two-year-old rooted cuttings 15-20' apart in rows about 10' apart. They do best with plenty of organic mulch. The canes should be trained on a trellis or arbor. Plant rooted cuttings in late winter or spring with 2 or 3 buds above the soil. Allow the plant to grow during its first growing season. During the first dormant season, select the best shoot and head it back to 3 or 4 buds, and cut off all the other shoots to the main trunk. During the second growing season, remove all but the most vigorous shoot and tie it to the supporting arbor or trellis post. When it reaches the top of the arbor or trellis wire, pinch it back to force it to branch. Allow 2 branches to grow along the wire or top of the arbor, and cut back all others to 8-10" in length. In the second dormant season, cut back all shoots except the two major branches which should be tied to the trellis wire or arbor top. In the third growing season, no pruning is necessary - you may allow flower clusters and fruit to develop. In every dormant season thereafter, muscadine vines should be pruned by the "spur training" method. During each growing season, spurs with two shoots will develop along the main lateral branches. (Flowers and grapes develop on these paired shoots.) In each dormant season, cut off weak spurs and cut off the weaker shoot on each spur. Try to maintain about 6" between spurs. Cut back the stronger shoot on each spur to just 2 or 3 buds. Always keep the main trunk free of branches. Pull off tendrils that have wrapped around main stems to prevent strangulation. Light: Although they can tolerate some shade from high trees, muscadines will do much better and produce larger and better fruit when grown in full sun. Moisture: Although they can survive periods of dry weather, fruit production will suffer if muscadines are not watered regularly. A thick layer of pine needles or leaves helps to conserve soil moisture. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 6. Propagation: Muscadines are easy to propagate by layering or from cuttings of soft wood. They may also be grown from seed, but of course cannot be expected to "come true."
Muscadines are grown on trellises or arbors for their fruit or for the screening effect they produce when in leaf. Well maintained vineyards can produce up to 15 tons of muscadines per acre. Muscadines are usually used for juice, wine, jellies and fresh eating. They do not keep very well after picking because the stem scar is usually an open wound, inviting rot and decay. However, some of the newer varieties have dry stem scars and are thus better keepers. New varieties with softer skin also are being developed.
Our favorite way to eat muscadines is to carefully pull them off the vine, nip the stem scar with the front teeth, then squeeze the pulp and seeds into the mouth. Toss the skin to the squirrels and spit out the seeds after skillfully separating them from the juicy pulp.
There are four main types of grapes commonly cultivated in North America. Various selections of muscadines are grown in the southeastern U.S. Bunch grapes known as "American cultivars" were derived from Vitis lambrusca, the fox or Lambruscan grape, and various hybrids with it. The most important grapes in vineyards east of the Rockies, American cultivars are grown from the Great Lakes Region and New England, south to Georgia and west to Indiana, and include such popular varieties as 'Niagara', 'Catawba', 'Brighton', 'Hartford', 'Concord', 'Freedonia' and 'Portland'. Many of the diverse cultivars (for example, 'Thompson Seedless', 'Pinot Noir', 'Cabernet Sauvignon, 'Zinfandel', 'Chardonay', and 'French Colombard') of the European grape (Vitis vinifera) are grown in California and Arizona for wine and table use. (California produces about 90% of the commercial grapes in the U.S.) Grape breeders in France have created numerous hybrids between the European grape and various North American species; these are generally known as "French hybrids", and are becoming increasingly popular in American vineyards. The French hybrids are grown mainly for wine, and include 'Baco Noir', 'Chancelor', 'Seyval', 'Villard Blanc' and 'De Chaunac'.
Steve Christman 9/8/01; updated 9/5/03, 10/5/10