Vitis riparia Michx.
Vitis riparia Michx. var. praecox Engelm. ex L.H. Bailey
Vitis riparia Michx. var. syrticola (Fernald & Wiegand) Fernald
Vitis vulpina L. var. praecox (Engelm. ex L.H. Bailey) L.H. Bailey
Vitis vulpina L. ssp. riparia (Michx.) R.T. Clausen
Vitis vulpina L. var. syrticola Fernald & Wiegand
Riverbank grape is a widespread North American native. The species, riparia, is named for its preference for wet places—the banks of rivers and streams, ravines, peninsulas and islands in lakes, etc.
Identification: These vines (technically, lianas) manage to climb their way up to 50' (15 m) into trees or anything else it can wrap its forked tendrils around. Stems are smooth and green or dull reddish brown when young, becoming thick (up to 3" (7.6 cm) around) and woody with age, with reddish, exfoliating bark. Leaves have three and sometimes as many as seven lobes, with coarse teeth and forward-pointing lobes. They are alternate, and are 4-8" (10-20 cm) × 2½-6" (7-15 cm). Lower leaf surfaces are covered with a bloom or fine hairs; upper leaves are shiny green. Flowers are yellowish-green, in loose spikes up to five inches long, appearing from May to July. Individual flowers are small and inconspicuous. Grape clusters are smaller in size than for many other grape species. The grapes are smaller too, ¼-½" (6.3-12 mm) around, and black, with a strong ”bloom” of blue. They appear from July to September. Each grape contains two to four seeds.
Edibility: Fruit is edible raw or dried as raisins, tasting sour unless harvested after a frost. Several sources say it makes a good jelly—for this purpose, the grapes should be harvested when younger, since the pectin content is higher. They were harvested by native Americans. The young leaves, wrapped around foods and baked, flavor the food. They can also be boiled and eaten with butter.
Vitis riparia at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
Vitis riparia at Illinois Wildflowers
Vitis riparia on Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
Vitis riparia on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Vitis riparia at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Vitis riparia description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.