Wild Grapes and Those Who Love Them

These wild grapes (Vitis sp.) make for a great meal for insects and mammals alike.

Walking down the Mountain Goat Trail yesterday I noticed an especially robust crop of wild grapes (Vitis sp.) on a vine just off of the trail. Never one to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of our forest (our blogs on pawpaws and figs attest to this), I grabbed a few grapes, and as I looked closer at the vine I was harvesting from, I noticed I wasn’t the only one hungry for the sweet but sharp flavor of the small grapes. A number of yellow jackets were enjoying a mid-afternoon snack as well. I was excited to see this feeding behavior, and the sight of the yellow jacket crawling on an already partially eaten group reminded me of an NPR story I heard a few weeks ago about the role that hornets play in the fermentation of grapes in the wine-making process. While I have no intention of turning these wild grapes into wine, this story serves as an important reminder that what on the surface seem to be simple predator-prey ecological interactions may have much greater implications, either in terms of human use, or within the ecosystem.

On a separate, more botanical note, I could not tell you exactly what species of grape this is. The genus Vitis, in which all grapes are placed, is a large genus – we have four on the Domain – and distinguishing between each can prove a difficult endeavor.

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