Reflections in Nature: Grapes were one of earliest plants cultivated by man

While riding on rural roads one can see many wild apple trees loaded with small apples. By now, these apples have begun falling to the ground.

It would be ideal if the apples remained on the trees long enough to freeze and then fell off during the winter months when wildlife have a hard time finding food. Along with the abundance of apples, black berries, raspberries, blackcaps, blueberries, and others have also produced quite well due to the amount of rainfall this summer.

Not only cultivated grapes but also the wild varieties are having a banner year. However harvesting cultivated grapes has been a problem this year due to the rains.

One of my most vivid memories of grouse hunting occurred in a large grape thicket. Grouse season that year opened after Christmas, and the ground had good snow cover. Grapes were plentiful that year and hung late on the vines. Now, hunters know that where grapes are found — game will also be found. That day I had an unbelievable amount of flushes while hunting through the grape thicket.

Although I remember quite a lot of shooting, I have no memories of birds in my game bag.

Grapes were one of the earliest plants cultivated by man. The seeds of grapes have been found with Egyptian mummies from the Bronze Age 3500 BC. In the Bible, we read that after the great flood, Noah planted a vineyard. There are many more references to grapes and wine in the Bible.

Grapes, which were grown by the Romans and the Greeks, were of such importance that Bacchus was called the Roman God of Wine, and Dionysus was known as the Greek God of Wine.

When the colonists came to America they found grapes growing wild, but these wild grapes were sour and the wine made from these grapes was not good. The colonists brought grapes from Europe to plant in their new world. This species of grapes quickly fell prey to an American insect (phylloxera, a variety of plant louse), that created a gall on the leaves. In another stage, the insect entered the roots of the grape vines, causing them to die. This insect was accidentally introduced into Europe and almost destroyed their grape industry.

Since grape and wine played an important part in the early settler’s life, many attempts were made to establish European grapes in this country. Tax exemption status was given by Colonial Governments to those that planted grapes. European grapes were only successfully planted by early missionaries in California. Today, California leads the states in grape production. Although New York, Michigan and Washington are also grape producing states, all three together do not produce as many grapes as California.

Today, there have been approximately 3,000 varieties of grapes grown, with at least a thousand of these varieties originating in the United States. The vineyards of France, Italy, Spain and the Rhine Valley of Germany are world famous for their production of grapes.

After numerous methods of trying to raise European grapes, the early colonists switched to growing apples, of which many varieties of apples were grown. Instead of wine, the colonists produced apple cider, applejack and apple vinegar and even a beer was made from apples.

Eventually, the American wild grape vines and the European grape vines were grafted together. These vines, which resisted the plant louse, also produced good grapes that led to high quality wines.

Grape vines are climbing shrubs. The central stem is the trunk, and the main branches are the arms. The soft growths of the current season are known as shoots. New plants are usually grown from cuttings taken from the vine during the winter. Each vine should bear approximately 15 to 25 pounds of grapes, depending on the growing season.

Grapes are rich in glucose and fructose and a source of potassium, iron, sodium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and Vitamins C and B. One pound of grapes contains approximately 435 calories and are almost 75% water.

In old English, grapes were known as winberige, literally meaning wineberry. Although grapes are important to man, they are more important to wildlife. More than 75 species of birds and mammals are known to feed on grapes. When the wild grape vines do not produce, wildlife loses.

Bill Bower is a retired Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Officer. Read his blog and listen to his podcasts on the outdoors at www.onemaningreen.com.


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