Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

California Wild Grape, VITIS CALIFORNICA

from the the September 20, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Another vine occasionally appearing in fairly moist soil at woods edges is the California Wild Grape, VITIS CALIFORNICA, its glossy, serrate-margined leaves and a small cluster of silvery grapes shown above. The grapes are actually purple, but they're covered with a silvery "bloom," known as glaucescence. You can wipe the glaucescence right off with a finger.

Back East it can be hard sometimes to figure out which wild grape you have. Weakley's Flora of the Carolinas lists eleven species for the Southeast. Apparently in Oregon only the California Wild Grape appears, and that species is found only here in the southwestern corner of the state, extending southward through most of California. Two other Vitis species occur in California.

Nowadays California Wild Grape leaves are turning very prettily red and yellow. In fact, this vine is so generally attractive that it's much sold in plant nurseries as a landscaping vine. There's even a "Roger's Red" horticultural variety available.

Naturally this area's indigenous people once ate this species' grapes with relish. The Mendocino people made preserves with them. The Karok used the vine's roots for the bottoms of their baskets, and used the vines themselves to moor boats to shore. The Pomo soaked the vines in water and hot ashes, removed the bark and teased out strands to use as thread, and used the vines themselves to tie Service Berry thatch in place on the roofs of their winter homes. The Miwok placed the vine's green leaves over hot stones in their earthen ovens. These are just some of the uses of this wonderful plant, and we haven't even mentioned its obvious value to wildlife.