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Published In: Species Plantarum 1: 202. 1753. (1 May 1753) (Sp. Pl.) Name publication detailView in BotanicusView in Biodiversity Heritage Library

Project Name Data (Last Modified On 9/22/2017)
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4. Vitis L. (grape) (Moore, 1991)

Plants lianas, sometimes only scrambling on the ground, usually incompletely or functionally dioecious. Twigs and young stems circular in cross-section or somewhat angled, green or reddish-tinged, glabrous to densely hairy. Older stems to 20 m or more long, gray to dark brown, often appearing somewhat warty with oval lenticels, eventually developing shredding bark (nonshredding in V. rotundifolia), the pith brown, usually broken into chambers at maturity (at least on older branches), interrupted by a diaphragm of lighter unchambered tissue at the nodes (except in V. rotundifolia). Tendrils at pairs of nodes (at several adjacent nodes in V. labruscana L.H. Bailey), sometimes few, occasionally also in the inflorescence, 2- or 3-branched (unbranched in V. rotundifolia) toward the tip, the branch tips slender. Leaf blades simple, often shallowly to deeply palmately 3- or more-lobed, cordate to broadly cordate at the base, the margins with relatively broad coarse teeth abruptly tapered or narrowed to sharply pointed tips. Inflorescences usually opposite the leaves, more or less pinnately-branched panicles, the ultimate branches sometimes in small umbellate clusters at the tips of the ultimate branches. Petals mostly 5, fused at the tip, 1–3 mm long, shed as a caplike unit as the flower opens, greenish yellow. Stamens mostly 5. Nectar disc inconspicuous, short, deeply 5-lobed or divided into 5 separate glands alternating with the stamens. Style often very short, usually not persistent at fruiting. Fruits globose or less commmonly ellipsoid, usually lacking warty dots at maturity. Seeds 1–4 per fruit, asymmetrically obovoid with a small nipplelike base, thus appearing somewhat pear-shaped, somewhat longitudinally angled along the inner side. About 65 species, North America, Central America, South America, Caribbean Islands, Europe, Asia.

Some specimens of Vitis bear a superficial resemblance to Ampelopsis cordata, but the brown, usually chambered (vs. white, unchambered) pith serves to distinguish them easily. The flowers of grape species are too similar to provide diagnostic characters for species determination. However, collectors should note the abundance, positions, and degree of branching of any tendrils and inflorescences present, as well as the appearance of the bark of larger stems, as these figure prominently in the key below. Also, a branch should be shaved or sliced longitudinally through one or more nodes to reveal the size and configuration of the pith.

Morphological and molecular studies have provided strong evidence that Vitis comprises two well-differentiated subgenera (summarized in Aradhya et al., 2013). Breeders have also noted the existence of genetic barriers that restrict (but do not totally prevent) hybridization between members of subg. Vitis and subg. Muscadinia (Planch.) Rehder. Some botanists have interpreted these data as justification for segregation of Vitis rotundifolia into the segregate genus Muscadinia (Planch.) Small (Weakley et al., 2011). However, whether interpreted as two subgenera of Vitis or two closely related genera, there is consensus among botanists that the grapes form a natural group. Treatment as separate genera seems counterproductive to any discussion of the economic botany of grapes.

Fruits of Vitis provide an important food source for birds, mammals, and even box turtles. Deer and other mammals also browse the young foliage. The stems are used in the construction of baskets and other handcrafts. Grapes also are an important crop of worldwide importance dating back to the dawn of agriculture. The berries are eaten fresh as table grapes, dried as raisins, and processed into jellies, jams, and preserves. An extract from the skin of the fruit is used as a colorant for other foods and drinks. The berries also produce a juice that is used as a beverage either fresh or fermented as wine (or further-processed into beverages like champagne, sherry, and cognac), and which is also used as a flavoring and base for other blended fruit drinks. In addition to its beverage use, wine has been associated with religious ceremonies since antiquity. According to the online FAOSTAT databases of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in the year 2000 the United States produced about 6.8 million metric tons of grapes and processed about 2.5 million metric tons of wine. The principal species involved in table grapes are the eastern North American V. labrusca L. (fox grape), from which Concord, Catawba, and other dark and rosy grape cultivars were developed, and V. vinifera L. (a native of the Middle East), from which popular lighter selections such as Thompson seedless were developed. Most wines (except Concord wines) are made by fermenting the fruits of various cultivars and hybrids involving V. vinifera.

In Missouri, the grape-growing industry began with the influx of European colonists into the Missouri River Valley and portions of the Ozarks during the early nineteenth century. The first commercial vineyards were established by German settlers in the 1830s around the town of Hermann (Montgomery County). By the 1870s, when growers in the state were producing nearly two million gallons annually, the state’s wine industry ranked second only to that of California in the United States. The wine industry collapsed in the 1920s with the onset of the Prohibition Era, and did not begin to rebound until the 1960s, when a small number of enterprising families rebuilt the Missouri wine industry from scratch by restoring some of the original wineries. Some growers were able to remain in business following the Volstead Act’s ban on alcoholic beverages by converting their businesses to juice grape production, and Missouri has been an important source of such grapes for companies like Welch’s. During the 1990s, with the increasing availability of less expensive grapes from Asia and Latin America, the juice grape industry in Missouri has endured economic hardships.

In about 1860, enologists (wine scientists) experimenting with North American samples in an effort to breed new and better European grape cultivars accidentally introduced into France the grape phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae (Fitch), a small aphidlike insect native to North America that parasitizes Vitis species (Downie et al., 2000; Sorensen et al., 2008). Within a relatively short time, this insect wiped out nearly a third of France’s vineyards and spread to all grape-growing regions of Europe. A French commission sent to the United States determined that the most effective way to save their continent’s wine industry was to graft their precious vines onto rootstocks of hardy North American species, which were naturally resistant to phylloxera infestation (C. Campbell, 2004). Missouri and Texas furnished the majority of the rootstocks that eventually saved Europe’s wine industry. Secondarily, these grafted grapes were imported into California to improve the wine industry there as well. Missouri botanists like Benjamin F. Bush and Henry Eggert (see introductory chapter on the History of Floristic Botany in Missouri) amassed small fortunes through the sale of rootstocks of various Vitis species wild-collected from Missouri and surrounding states.

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