Vitis labrusca

Catawba Grape, Fox Grape

Vitis labrusca

Grapes have been cultivated for thousands of years. Most fruiting vines are hybrids or cultivars of Vitis Vinifera which is thought to have originated in parts of Asia Minor and the Caucasus. Numerous species abound in North America, including Vitis Labrusca, a rampant, vigorous grape that has produced many hybrids, including ‘Catawba’.

This cultivar is grown locally, especially in summer rainfall regions where many grapes of Mediterranean origin battle with the moisture and humidity. Vitis Labrusca is commonly known as the Fox Grape, alluding to the earthy aromas of the musk. It’s also referred to as the ‘slip-skin grape’ as the pulp slips easily out of the skin when ripe berries are squeezed between two fingers.

The cultivar, ‘Catawba’, has rounded leaves, slightly lobed and dark green above with white or rust-coloured pubescence on the underside. Tendrils appear on every node of the stem and are important for supporting the weight of the plant. Bunches of small to- medium berries develop after the spring flowers. They ripen in mid-summer and are a pink-purple colour at this stage. The flesh remains green.

The flavour is very distinctive, somewhat tart compared to most table grapes, but nevertheless very pleasant to most palates. In North America this grape is cultivated to produce wine and juice, although its commercial value locally is not known. Grapes require full sun and a means of support in order to be kept in check.

‘Catawba’ is vigorous and needs to be grown on a fence, pergola, over an archway or even against a building. Left unchecked it can become a problem in the garden, smothering trees and shrubs as it searches for some means of support. Prune plants in winter during dormancy, removing all excess growth but leaving a framework of main arterial stems.

Being deciduous they allow winter sunshine to filter through to warm up areas under the vine and then provide summer shade and shelter. Apply 3:1:5 slow-release fertiliser to the root zone of the plants every six weeks during the growing season.

This North American grape is relatively pest and disease free. ‘Catawba’ is certainly more than simply a grape vine – this plant has a multitude of different uses for gardens, smallholdings and farms all around the country. Shelter, shade and privacy can all be provided by this most useful vine.

Vitis labrusca
The Gardener