Monday, March 06, 2017

Grapes alive!

Back in February I wrote about how I'd gotten a shipment of grape cuttings in from the T.V. Munson vineyard at Grayson College. These hybrid varieties were created by Munson more than a century ago to 1) resist the various disease pressures of Texas and the Southern United States and 2) thrive in our soil and climactic conditions, which cause many common grape varieties considerable trouble. What I got from Grayson amounted to a bunch of 12" sticks cut from their mature vines. To prepare them for planting, I dipped each in Dip 'n Grow liquid rooting hormone, then bundled them up in a trash bag filled with moist sphagnum moss, then wrapped that in a black, light-proof bag and set it in my cloning box atop a plant heating mat. The damp heat encourages the cuttings to callus, which is the first stage of rooting, and the dark environment discourages the cuttings from sprouting prematurely. This is what they looked like when I pulled them out:

Let's quickly go over the four different cultivars I'm trying to root:

BEN HUR. Parentage a combination of Post Oak grape with Norton and Herbemont. Vine very vigorous, very prolific, free from rot and mildew; cluster large; berry little under medially black, persistent; pulp very tender, juicy, sprightly, sweet. We consider this one of the most valuable of American wine grapes. Those who like Le Noir grape will like this, as it has all the good qualities of Le Noir without its tendency to rot or mildew. Medium to long arm pruning, Ten feet apart. Ripens in August 5th to 15th, at Denison, Texas. [I've been considering Black Spanish/Lenoir grapes for our place, but this selection seems to offer all the advantages without the drawbacks of that better-known type. Easy call]

ELVICAND. 1885. (Elvira x Mustang). This is the best of three accidental hybrids of Elvira with the native Mustang grape, illustrates how readily hybrids between cultivated and wild grapes occur. There is no mistaking that the variety shows Mustang much more than Elvira. A pure natural compromise of three very distinct species, — one from the far Northeast, Labrusca, one from the cold North, Vulpina, and one from the hot Southwest, Candicans; vine vigorous with rampant growth, leaves of medium size, leathery, dark green above, covered with dense white woolly felt on under side and on younger wood; cluster small, compact, shouldered, peduncle short; berry globular, clear translucent red, above medium size, very persistent, the pedicel extracting a small core, when berry is pulled off, as in Mustang pulp tender, juicy, of a very sprightly sweet, slight Mustang flavor. Vine bears heavily with long arm pruning. Colors at mid-season but should hang several weeks to reach its best quality. Birds do not bother it until quite ripe. Ellis variety has received very favorable notice in South Texas and in California, as making a peculiar, very agreeable light white wine. The fruit neither rots or cracks, and the foliage never mildews. Here is a base on which to build a distinct very successful class of high colored grapes for all the country south of Mason and Dixon’s line. [My late father-in-law had what we thought were sweet, low-acid mustang grapes growing on his property outside of Bastrop. They were quite wonderful in flavor. I'm willing to bet now that they were Elvicand types gone feral from an old homestead].

VALHALLAH. 1893. (Elvicand x Brilliant). Vine strong grower, foliage much more resembling Brilliant than Elvicand, and a little subject to mildew in wet seasons. Cluster small to medium, shouldered; berries large, dark, translucent red, globular, persistent, skin tough, pulp tender, juicy, of very good quality, — an improvement on Elvicand; has a trace of Mustang pulp flavor, but none of the twang of skin; ripe a little later than Concord and hangs sound a long time. Adapted to same range as Elvicand, and especially suitable for very limy soil. Plant 10 feet apart, give long arm pruning. Perfect flower. [This is what put me on the hunt for Munson's varieties--looking for a table grape suited for Central Texas conditions. It is reported to have flourished in trials in San Antonio. Who am I to argue with that?]

WAPANUKA. 1893. (Rommel x Brilliant). Growth medium to strong, equal with Concord, less attacked by mildew than Brilliant. Cluster medium to large, cylindrical, shouldered, properly compact; peduncle short to medium. Berries large, five-eights to seven-eights inch in diameter, globular, persistent, rich yellowish-white, translucent; skin very thin and delicate, yet seldom cracks, and handles better than Rommel. Ripe about with Delaware. Far superior to Niagara and Green Mountain. For nearby market and table grape there is no other variety superior, if equal, to it. Very prolific, requires short pruning. Succeeds well North and South. Reported as enduring drought in Western Texas among the best. Undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, table and eating grapes produced in the United States. Takes the place of the Rommel, it being superior to it, although the Rommel is near the top for extra fine quality and flavor. Plant 8 Feet. Short arm pruning. Perfect flower. [The table grape description caught my attention. I'd never heard of this grape, and it seems pretty obscure, even for a Munson type. I wonder why it's not more widely grown, as opposed to, say, the Chanpanel, which is the one Munson variety readily available but isn't considered good for eating and only marginal for wine.]
As you can see in the image below, wrapping in a black bag wasn't enough to keep some of the cuttings from sprouting. This is Ben Hur, I believe.

And when we're talking about calluses, it's difficult to visualize. Essentially, from what I can gather, it's scar tissue that closes up the bottom cut on the budwood, from which roots develop. It's creamy in color, and can form beneath the bark as well as atop of it. Here are two pieces of Valhallah that the calluses are quite clear. Calluses are easily obscured by bark and the sphagnum moss--these weren't very visible until I washed them off.

And here's Elvicand. The calluses are obscured by sphagnum moss, but there's no mistaking that aggressive root growth. Elvicand was a popular wine grape pre-Prohibition, in no small part, I suspect, to the ease in which it roots.

So here they all are, potted up and ready (hopefully) to take root and grow vigorously for a few months, at which point I'll transplant to separate containers. Of the four types I'm working with, Elvicand seems the most easily rooted, with calluses and aggressive roots. Valhallah is next, with small roots forming on several pieces of wood, but all showing some degree of callusing. After that comes Ben Hur, with aggressive sprouting but only minimal callusing and no visible roots. Finally we have Wapanuka, with no sprouts, no roots and no obvious callusing. The wood still appears healthy and alive, so I'll exercise patience and keep a close eye on it for the next few months. Grape cuttings can live for months without developing roots as long as they've kept moist, and I wonder if the rarity of Wapanuka stems from a reluctance to root.

In other news, I got in a shipment of 25 piƱon pine seedings in from West Texas Nursery. Alas, I wasn't paying as close attention as I should have--turns out these are pinus edulis as opposed to pinus remota, which is what I really wanted and think would do better here on the edge of the Hill Country. Regardless, they're both closely related pine trees that require alkaline soil to grow, and produce edible pine nuts. I intend to plant a number of them and hope for the best, while trading the rest for other interesting plant types. Wish me luck!

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