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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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Riverbank grapevines can be found growing around the trees in Back Bay Park.
Riverbank grapevines can be found growing around the trees in Back Bay Park.

Wild grape wine, anyone?

Have you ever noticed in many area parks, some wooded areas – and even some trees in not so wooded areas – are covered with grape vines?

Yes, Wisconsin is home to many native vine species, including things like poison ivy and, despite its name, Virginia creeper. Also right at home in Badgerland is Riverbank grape. I snapped a few photographs of Riverbank vines wrapping themselves around trees up on the bluff above Lake Michigan in Back Bay Park on the East Side.

Then, I asked Brian Russart, the natural areas coordinator for Milwaukee County Dept. of Parks, Recreation and Culture, about them.

"It certainly looks like the Riverbank grape," he said. "I'm no expert on whether (wild vines) are edible or not, but I do believe the Riverbank grape is. I've tried it and it's pretty tart. I have heard of individuals making wine out of wild grapes but I'm not sure which species they use."

But don't get any ideas about harvesting on public land, Russart reminded.

"Any grapes growing in the Park System natural areas are protected from collection," he said.

I asked if these vines are considered invasive species and if anything is being done to control them in County Parks and Russart clarified.

"We do work to control the invasive species, but not any of the native ones," he said. "Sometimes native species can become aggressive, but typically that happens in a more ecologically disturbed area.

"There are several non-native invasives vine species such as porcelain berry which is currently found at Grant Park and Oriental bittersweet which is found at approximately four parks."

If you have questions about the plants growing wild in the area, Russart suggests the Freckman Herbarium website, which he said "Is one of the best for any plants found in Wisconsin."

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