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Vitis vinifera L. 1753
pronounced: VEE-tiss vih-NIFF-er-uh
(Vitaceae – the grape family)
common name: Grape
North Queensland is not noted for its grape-growing, either for wine or for table grapes, but it is possible to grow grape vines here, and they occasionally will flower and fruit. The vine photographed grows on the side fence of the Medical Clinic in Nelly Bay.
Vitis is Latin for a vine, and vinifera is from vinifer, wine-producing.
The grape vine originated between the Caspian and Black Seas in Asia Minor, and is one of the longest cultivated plants, especially the wine-producing varieties. There are records of grape production as far back as 2440 BC. There are many varieties (over 5,000 varieties of wine grapes), and the frontiers of wine-production have been pushed further and further from the temperate zones even into sub-tropical regions like southern Queensland, and into colder regions like England, where there has been a significant wine-growing industry since the times of the Roman occupation. Grape varieties differ most obviously in the colour of the fruit – white, red or black. Some varieties are table grapes, others wine, and some are dual-purpose. Most of the wine varieties and a good many of the table varieties are derived from Vitis vinifera, although many table varieties are derived, at least in part, from the North American native Vitis labrusca. Wine grapes are usually very acidic, and too tart for general eating. Table grapes differ from wine grapes mainly in the size of the berries, and quite a few varieties are seedless. A number of Asian species are grown mainly for their attractive foliage and autumn colours.
Grape vines require full sun – shaded vines are more susceptible to disease, and tend to produce fewer bunches of grapes. Vines can live to over 100 years in good growing conditions, but the average productive life is 25-50 years. They can be propagated by seeds, layering, cuttings and grafting. The vine is a climbing plant with simple lobed or dentate leaves, whose shape depends on the variety. There are racemes of greenish bisexual flowers, and the fruits are two-celled and four-seeded, except, of course, in the seedless varieties.
Dried fruits become raisins, sultanas and currants. The leaves are used in cooking, wrapped around other foods and baked. Young tendrils are eaten raw or cooked. An edible oil is obtained from the seeds, but it needs to be refined before it is eaten. It is polyunsaturated, and suitable for mayonnaise and cooking, especially frying. Roasted seeds are also used as a coffee substitute. Cream of Tartar, a crystalline salt, is extracted from the residue of pressed grapes and from the sediment of wine barrels; it is used in making baking powder, and also in the production of fluxes for soldering.
There are various medical uses. Extracts from the fruit are used in the treatment of varicose veins, haemorrhoids and capillary fragility. The seeds are anti-inflammatory and astringent; the sap of young branches is diuretic, and is also used a a remedy for skin diseases. The plant is used in Bach flower remedies; the keywords for describing it are ‘Dominating’, ‘Inflexible’ and ‘Ambitious’.
A yellow dye can be obtained from fresh or dried leaves; the oil from the seeds, as well as for cooking, is also used for lighting, and as an ingredient in soaps and paints. The stems of old vines attain a good size, and produce a very durable timber.
The grape vine is a very popular food plant with caterpillars, including those of:
• the Orange Fruit Borer Isotenes miserana;
• the moth Theretra indistincta;
• the Vine Hawk Moth Hippotion celerio;
• the Black-bodied Browntail Moth Euproctis melanosoma;
• the White-brow Hawk Moth Gnathothlibus erotus;
• the Australian Striped Hawk Moth Hyles livornicoides;
• the moth Theretra clotho;
• the Black Cutworm Agrotis ipsilon;
• the Pecan Stem Girdler Maroga melanostigma; and
• the moth Phalaenoides tristifica.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2013
Page last updated 11th March 2018