The Muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia Michx.) was the first American grape species to be cultivated. This fruit has a long history in commercial and backyard culture. The oldest and most consistent commercial interest in Muscadines has been in wine, but juice and fresh fruit market have also been developed. Muscadines so differ from “bunch” grapes genetically, anatomically, physiologically, and in taste that they should be considered a separate fruit.
Muscadines are native to the Deep South and are well-suited for backyard production. They are heat- and drought-tolerant and have very few insect and disease problems. These qualities make them an ideal choice for a homeowner who would like to grow some fruit.
History For much of the history of muscadines, cultivars were simply wild selections preserved through vegetative propagation. The first recognized muscadine cultivar was a bronze selection found before 1760 by Isaac Alexander in Tyrrell County, N.C. This selection is important historically, as well as viticulturally (grape culture) as the first American grape culture. It was known as the Big White Grape or Hickman’s Grape and was later named Scuppernong after the area in which it was found. With time, the name scuppernong became generic for all bronze muscadines, regardless of actual cultivar name. In common usage, scuppernongs are sometimes even thought of as a separate species from muscadines or “bullises,” traditional generic names for the dark-fruited types. Bullis and its variants (bullace, bullet grape, bull grape) are very old names for dark-fruited muscadines. It is important to note that all cultivars of this type of grape, regardless of the berry color (bronze, black, red, etc.) are correctly called muscadines. Muscadines are usually considered to be a grape, both in common terminology and in botanical taxonomic classification.
Vineyard Site Selection Muscadines are limited in their production to the cotton-belt areas of the southeastern United States that have a moderate climate. Vines should not be planted where temperatures drop below 10 degrees, with some damage and death of vines occurring as temperatures drop below zero degrees, depending on the rapidity of temperature drop, preconditioning, age, cultivar and condition of the vine.
Although muscadines will survive and produce a crop under a variety of soil conditions, planting is not recommended where soils have poor internal drainage. Never plant where surface water stands more than a few hours even after the most severe storms. If poor drainage may be a problem on an otherwise good site, install a tile drainage system or plant on a raised bed that allows complete surface drainage. Soils that have a hardpan or water table near the surface are not satisfactory. Growing grapes without irrigation is not advisable. Particle-free water from a well or municipal source is generally suitable. Pond water is not suitable for trickle or micro-irrigation unless extensively filtered.
Variety (Cultivar) Selection An overriding consideration in the selection of cultivars is whether they have self-fertile flowers or self-sterile pistillate flowers. Self-fertile, perfect-flowered cultivars that have both male and female flower parts do not require pollinizers. Pistillate cultivars have only female flower parts and must be adjacent to pollen producing types. Pistillate cultivars should be planted with one row of a self-fertile, pollen-producing cultivar between two rows of pistillate cultivars.
If muscadines are being grown for fresh fruit consumption, several characteristics should be considered. As mentioned above, if female varieties are grown, a perfect-flowered variety must be planted close by to provide pollen, or no grapes will be produced. Other considerations might include qualities that contribute to visual appeal such as size and color. But more importantly for homeowners who do not want to spray their vines would be disease-resistance of the berries. Three good choices of muscadine varieties with good resistance to berry rot disease include: Florida Fry—bronze, self-fertile; Ison—black, self-fertile; and Noble—black, self-fertile.
For more information, call Dr. Chris Robichaux, county agent, St. Martin/Iberia parishes, at 332-2181 or 369-4440.