By Joseph Mooney
Native Plant of the Week: Riverbank Grape, Vitis riparia
Did you know there are at least 30 different species of native grape (genus Vitis) in North America? There’s probably one in your backyard right now, snaking through a nearby shrub or tree.
The most common species of native grape in the continental U.S., and the one most likely to be in your Michigan garden, is Vitis riparia, or riverbank grapevine. The species name “riparia” refers to its typical riverbank habitat. But V. riparia grows in lots of different sites and soils. You may encounter old riverbank grapevines as much as 2 inches in diameter hanging from tree branches high above and showing their characteristic shreddy bark. Leaf shape can vary dramatically, making positive ID challenging.
According to several accounts, many Native American tribes used the vines for basketry. In its publication “Culturally Significant Plants” the United States Department of Agriculture reports that indigenous people used the juice of V. riparia to treat coughs and cold, and applied a mixture made from the leaves to sprains and bruises.
Clusters of Vitis riparia grapes growing on a vine near the Campus Farm at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.