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Vitis

Vitis riparia - riverbank grape

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Riverbank grape is the most widespread of the native North American vines, and its range extends quite far north. In the wild it grows on river banks, as the common name indicates, but also in forest openings and along roadsides, either clinging onto other plants or growing along the ground. The alternative common name of frost grape doesn’t refer to its hardiness, but to the sweetening effect of the first frosts on the grapes. In America these acid but aromatic wild grapes are still picked for home-made juices and jams.

Even more important than their use in juices and jams, this species has been used as root stock for less hardy grape varieties. Crossings of the riverbank grape with the true grape (V. vinifera) and other wild grapes has produced varieties which can be grown under conditions where the true grapes don’t thrive. In Finland, for example, the varieties ‘Beta’ and ‘Valiant’ can be grown successfully. They are hybrids of riverbank and fox grape (V. labrusca). However, even these varieties only produce ripe fruits out of doors in the warmest spots, and perhaps not every year; in the protection of even an unheated greenhouse crops are more reliable.

At Mustila there are riverbank grapes of very northern natural provenances, which are hardier than the varieties. Although the forest-like conditions at the Arboretum are perhaps not the ideal setting, some varieties have also been planted against warm walls in the hope of fruiting.

 

Vitis coignetiae - crimson glory vine

This is definitely one of the most attractive species of the Vitis genus. It is a deciduous vine whose beautifully veined leaves can grow to 30 cms in good conditions. It climbs using tendrils, and once it has settled in place grows rapidly. In autumn the leaves are aglow with shades of orange, red and yellow.

The crimson glory’s flowers and fruit are of no particular interest except to pollinators and birds, which they attract in numbers. From eastern Asia, the species is best in a maritime climate, and enjoys even Finland’s relatively cool summers. Autumn colour is reliable, as can be seen quite early on the Arboretum’s Terassi (Terrace) and on Pohjoisrinne (Northern Slope) in the Japan section. Though fairly hardy, it can’t match the Amur grape (V. amurensis) in this respect.

Growing crimson glory against a warm sunny wall means it will be better prepared for the onset of winter. There seems to be no evidence that either its roots or its shoots and tendrils cause any structural damage to buildings.

 

Vitis amurensis - Amur grape

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The Amur grape is an attractive vine which can also be used for ground cover. It grows naturally in areas of eastern Asian where the winters are noticeably colder than in Finland and is claimed to be hardy down to -40C in the heart of winter. However, when growth begins in the spring it is tender to late frosts.

In China the best plants are selected as varieties for wine production. The grapes are said to produce quality though slightly acid wines with aromas of strawberry which appeal to Chinese tastes. In Europe, particularly in the former Soviet Union, Amur grape has been widely crossed with the common grape (V. vinifera) and other vines with the aim of producing commercially useful varieties hardy in the continental climate of eastern Europe. Some of these varieties, such as ‘Zilga’, have been successfully grown in Finland.

At Mustila, Amur grape is grown only as an ornamental, a role it fills excellently. The shape of the leaves is beautiful but their best feature is the autumn colour: the fire-red vine climbing over a lichen-grey or moss-green boulder is an unforgettable sight. Currently the Amur grape grows in several spots in the Arboretum, including Alppiruusulaakso (Rhododendron Valley) and the eastern end of Etelärinne (Southern Slope).

 

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