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Description

This is a native woody perennial vine up to 50' long. It usually climbs trees, shrubs, or fence rows through the use of tendrils, but will rise only ½–2' above the ground while sprawling in open areas. The woody stems branch occasionally, and can become quite thick with shaggy bark toward the trunk. The smaller non-woody stems are yellowish green to red, hairless, and sometimes glaucous. At the leaf nodes, these stems become slightly wider, where there is a thin partition about 0.5-1.5 mm. across in the pith. Usually the tip of an actively growing stem is covered by a pair of young leaves. The leaves are up to 6" long and 4" across; they alternate along the stems. The leaves are cordate or orbicular in overall shape, and palmately lobed (often only three lobes are clearly visible). Usually the sinuses between the major lobes are broad and shallow, although sometimes they are moderately deep and either narrowly U-shaped or sharply cleft. The margins are coarsely serrated and slightly ciliate. The lower leaf surface is pale green, where there are white hairs along the major veins. The upper leaf surface is yellowish green to dark green and glabrous. The long slender petioles are pale green to red and usually glabrous, although there is a variety of Riverbank Grape with pubescent petioles. The flowers develop in drooping panicles up to 5" long. The small greenish-yellow flowers are either unisexual or perfect with 5 deciduous petals. Male flowers have 5 long exerted stamens, while female flowers have an ovary with a short style. Perfect flowers have both kinds of reproductive organs. Along with the tendrils, the panicles of flowers develop oppositely from the leaves, except every third one. The blooming period occurs during the late spring and lasts about 2 weeks. The flowers have a sweet musky fragrance. They are replaced by berries that develop during the summer. These are initially small and green, but become 3/8" across at maturity during late summer or fall. Mature berries are dark violet with a whitish bloom, each one containing 1-4 seeds. They have a juicy interior and either a sour or sweet-tart flavor. The root system consists of a central taproot that branches occasionally.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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