During their winter in Port Dover in 1669-1670, the Sulpian priests Dollier and Galinee made wine from wild grapes as large and sweet as the finest in France. Today a landscape of tidy vineyards, in rolling countryside epitomizes wine tourism from France to Tasmania. Yet, in a natural forest one’s first urge is to cut vines to save trees.
Of the 12 or so native woody vines that occur in southern Ontario two are grapes (Summer and Riverbank) and two are creepers (Thicket and Virginia). Yes, grapes and creepers may smother some trees in the forest, but they also contribute to forest complexity and biodiversity. They open the forest canopy creating more diverse habitats and regeneration.
Here, six species of sphinx moth caterpillars feed on leaves of grapes or creepers. Fast-flying sphinx moths can sip nectar from many flowers. Vine flowers also provide food for many other pollinators.
Fledgling warbler chicks hide from predators in the tumble down chablis (French biologists term for grape tangles) created by grapes and other vines. Most forest songbirds feed their nestlings caterpillars – some collected from vines. Scarlet Tanagers prefer to nest in the crowns of grape vines on trees. The nationally Endangered Cerulean Warbler uses grape bark to construct its nest, as do other forest warblers. Those same birds winter in the tropics, where they change their habits to include pollinating flowers and dispersing seeds. Grapes feed deer, cardinals, migratory songbirds and us. Summer Grape genetics play a role in commercial grape production. Try wild grapes for your fall culinary experience.