Winter grape is a woody vine climbing to a height of 50 feet by means of tendrils.
Leaves are alternate, simple, 4–8 inches long or broad, thin, round to heart-shaped, basal lobes broadly rounded with a narrow sinus (cleft between two lobes) where the leaf stem attaches; margin unlobed or with two short lobes, finely to coarsely toothed; upper surface dark green, with a few cobwebby hairs; lower surface covered with white to gray, cobwebby and straight hairs.
Stems of young branches are angled (not round in cross-section), densely white-felty, green; older branches are grayish brown, striped, with white cobwebby hairs often in patches; tendril emerges opposite the leaf. Bark of old trunks reddish brown, shredding into thin, long, loose strips. Wood porous, lightweight, pale brown.
Flowering is in May–July. Flowers are green, minute; male and female flowers in separate clusters on same plant; petals 5, dropping early. Clusters 4–6 inches long, cylindrical, the cluster stalk with a red tinge, woolly hairy, often with a tendril at the base.
Fruit matures in September–October. Fruit are round black berries, about ¼ inch thick, in long, loose, drooping clusters 3–6 inches long. Berries are tough-skinned and bitter until late autumn. Seeds 1–3 per fruit.
Stems can reach 65 feet or more in length.
Common in the southern two-thirds of Missouri, but absent from portions of the glaciated plains of northern Missouri.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in bottomland forests, mesic upland forests, banks of streams and rivers, and margins of ponds and lakes; also fencerows, old fields, roadsides, and railroads. Winter grape is the latest flowering of Missouri’s grapes. The fruits are small and do not become sweet until late autumn.
The fruits of winter grape are seldom used for jellies or juice because most people have forgotten about them by late autumn, when they finally become sweet.
The vines are gathered and woven into wreaths and adorned with various ornaments of the fall and winter seasons.
The fruit is eaten by many species of birds and mammals, including cardinal, cowbird, bobwhite, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, raccoon, red fox, and deer.
The foliage is browsed by deer, and the tendrils are eaten by wild turkey.
The catbird, mockingbird, brown thrasher, and cardinal use the long strips of bark in the middle layer of their nests.
Several species of sphinx moths use wild grape species as larval food plants.