There are a jillion different kinds of vines in the Camp Salmen woods. The smaller annual varieties, the ones that usually settle for smothering small bushes, are killed by winter and must start all over again and in spring. The big perennials, however, employ a different strategy. They crawl up the back of a chump tree to the heights and the life-giving sunlight. They maintain their advantage from year to year, steadily growing a woody trunk, losing only their leaves in winter and growing a new set the next season. Here are the back-stories of three of those vines.
Muscadine grape vines (Vitis rotundifolia) have been voted Camp Salmen’s best over-all vine. It has lovely, round, serrated leaves and can grow pendulous bunches of succulent, sweet, deep purple to black grapes. The vines are often easy to reach for humans and animals. Animals eat them right off the vine, humans do a little genius work and use them to make jelly, juice and wine. Over the centuries people have cultivated over 300 varieties of this plant, growing them on trellises. The vines are long and skinny and make little curly-cues to cling to other plants. I can attest that, in a pinch, these strands are plenty tough enough to be used as a suitable substitute for baling wire.
The Mustang grape vines (Vitis mustangensis) are remarkably massive and easy to spot, two to four inches thick at the ground with rough, deeply fissured, dark brown bark. They are usually rooted a short distance from the host tree and taper as they ascend stiffly into the forest canopy. Somewhere way up there they grow bunches of hard, green berries that ripen into a luscious-looking, plump, dark purple fruit. Sound enticing? Well — not so fast. Mustang grapes are bitter and highly acidic to the point they can irritate the skin. However, some people will try anything — with a lot of sugar, the pulp of the grape has been prepared and eaten as jelly and juice. It has also been used for dying wool.
The mighty Mustang Grape vine.
Rattan (Berchemia scandens) is similar in appearance and modus operandi to the Mustang Grape vine but without the grapes. It makes a fruit more properly called a berry and has a smooth, grey-green bark. It is not to be confused with the rattan cane from tropical Asia that is a type of palm. However, both rattans are known to be woven to make furniture.