California Wild Grape (Vitis californica)

August 2017

California wild grapeThe California wild grape is native to Southern Oregon and California, and can be found growing along creeks, streams, springs and floodplains in the Coast Ranges, the Central Valley and Sierra foothills below 3,200 feet of elevation. California grape is a deciduous vine (it dies back in the winter). It can climb up shrubs and trees, or form dense leafy mats on the ground, usually in shady areas close to a source of water.

Its small fragrant flowers, which emerged in May and June, are forming purplish clusters of grapes in August and September. The fruits are a critical late summer and fall staple for many animal species including coyote, opossum, skunk, wood ducks, California quail, cedar waxwing, and many other species of birds. It also provides important cover and forage for black-tailed deer as well as domesticated foragers such as cattle, sheep. Leaves and fruits are also edible to humans.

The fruit is sweet and juicy (although not as quite sweet as cultivated table grapes), and contain seeds. Wild grapes can be eaten raw, or made into jellies, jams, and pies. Leaves can be used as a wrap for other foods, and steamed (think Greek dolmas filled with spiced rice or ground meat). Early Californians ate the fruit, soaked the leaves in water to create a poultice for wounds, and used stems and roots in basketry, cordage and thread.

California wild grapeCalifornia wild grape is also of great importance to the commercial wine industry. Nearly all commercial wine grapes grown throughout the world are grafted onto the rootstock of California wild grape, which is resistant to the grape phylloxera aphids which nearly wiped out the European wine grape, Vitis vinifera, in the late 1800s.

California grape plants makes great restoration or backyard plants as they propagate easily from cuttings or fresh seeds. In restoration projects, California grape grows quickly and provides habitat in moist areas. In your yard, pick a spot that gets ample water, drains well, and preferably gets some shade. The grape vines will happily grow up existing tree, to add dimension to your landscape, or can be trained up trellises.