Monday, May 21, 2012

Mother Vine Lives On

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Mother Vine Lives On

A mother’s influence spreads far beyond her expectations or understanding. In the case of the Mother Vine of Roanoke Island, her tendrils have wound through 400 years of American history and botany.

Explorers Amadas and Arthur Barlowe may have been the first colonists to see what is believed to be the oldest cultivated grapevine in the nation. The huge scuppernong vine, a type of native muscadine, came to be known as the “mother vine” long ago and helped give birth to the 175-year-old wine industry of North Carolina. Many people consider the venerable plant to be a symbol of North Carolina heritage.

Local folklore tells of its fictional origin. In the story, beautiful Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World, lived to adulthood and fell in love. Another suitor was jealous, and the result was the tragic death of the young maiden.

As her lover carried her back to her original home to bury her, wherever drops of her blood touched the ground, vines filled with red grapes sprouted. From the spot where she was buried, came the Mother Vine which produced a sweet fruit unlike any other.

Scuppernong, a Washington County town, is named for the many cuttings that the settlers took from the Mother Vine during the colonial period. More than twenty varieties have been cultivated which produce both red and white wines.

Always famous for its scuppernong wine, NC was listed as the number one wine producer in the 1840 Federal Census and even now ranks in the top 10. As recently as 2008, Duplin Winery began bottling The Mother Vine white table wine which is the first wine in more than 100 years to be produced from a cutting of the native vine.

Recently, resveratrol, antioxidants, and other chemicals found in the grapes have been credited with clearing arterial walls and inhibiting cancerous tumor growth, thus increasing the wine’s popularity. For teetotalers, wineries also make undistilled juices, jams and sauces from the grapes.

The agricultural world trembled when in 2010 an accidental spraying of herbicides threatened to bring an end to the old lady.

Jack Wilson, owner of half of the vine for more than 52 years, was the first to notice the browning of the plant. Experts were summoned, and after careful study, they recommended cutting back the vine severely and applying lots of water and fertilizer to stop the herbicides from spreading to the two foot wide trunk and roots.

The plan worked. After careful treatment, the Mother Vine seems to have weathered one more storm. Monitoring will continue for several years.

The vine’s green canopy, now 32 feet wide and 120 feet long is supported by a system of posts and arbors. Passersby are often gifted with clusters of grapes from the vine to enjoy.

As with all life, the Mother Vine will continue to spread her influence throughout generations who care for and admire her.
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