Wild South Florida — Muscadine
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muscadine grapes
Muscadine grapes in fruit, photographed at Leon C. Weekes Environmental Preserve in Delray Beach, Palm Beach County.

Florida is grape country. Really. And of the four members of Vitaceae, or the grape family, native to South Florida, this, muscadine, Vitis rotundifolia, is the most commonly seen in the wild. And one of the most common plants of any kind, depending on the habitat. It can be dominant, in fact.

Muscadine grows throughout the Southeast U.S. as far north as the Mason-Dixon line, and as far west as Texas. It is found throughout Florida. It can produce vines 90 feet long, or more, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, growing over scrub oaks, saw palmetto and growing to the tops of large trees. The leaves are a dark, shiny green, deeply and sharply toothed; stems can be reddish, turning woody as the plant matures. It attaches itself to nearby vegetation via tendrils that wrap themselves around stems or branches.

Muscadine flowers in the spring, and produces loose clusters of four to 10 round, half-inch berries that turn a deep blue when ripe in late summer or fall. The fruit is edible; in fact delicious. But it's smaller than other varieties, has a tough skin and is seedy. It does makes great juice and jellies and even wine.

As you might expect, muscadine is an important source of food for birds and mammls, and also a source of cover. It is a host plant for two species of moth, the nessus sphinx and mournful sphinx.

And, given its relative abundance, it was an important plant for Native Americans, who used it for medicines and for food. The Seminoles made a remedy for snakebite from the plant and as a medicine for chronically ill children. They also used muscadine in ceremonies for the dead.


The Cherokee, meanwhile, made dumplings with the juice. They would mix muscadine juice with juices from other berries and add corn meal. Early European settlers took to eating muscadine as well.

Muscadine is grown commercially throughout the Southeast. It might be the most important crop grape in Florida. Vineyards here tend to be small, less than 500 acres, and north of here. The nearest growers are in the Lake Wales Ridge area, best we can tell from the Florida Grape Growers Association. Muscadine is adapted to the heat, rain, insects, disease and soils here that would wilt other grapes. There are also dozens of muscadine varieties developed for specific uses — some as table grapes, others for wines, juices and jellies. Muscadine grapes are full of antioxidents and anti-inflammatory compounds. Fun fact No. 1: Muscadine has 40 chromosomes; other grapes have 38. Fun fact No. 2: Ohio considers all grapes as noxious weeds if the number of vines on a property exceeds 100 and they have been left unattended for more than two years.

Photographs by David Sedore
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Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.