Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild grape, plus poison ivy

Iowa's grape and wine industry has grown rapidly during the past decade, with dozens of commercial wineries all over the state. But if you look carefully along roadsides and bike trails throughout Iowa, you may find this week's featured wildflower in bloom. Try to remember where you saw it, so you can go back for ripe wild grapes later this summer. Last year, everything bloomed early in Iowa, and I saw bunches of wild grapes in mid-July. Typically the fruit is not ready to pick and eat until later in the summer. With this year's cold spring, the wildflowers are all behind schedule.  

As a bonus, I enclosed pictures of poison ivy in bloom after the wild grape shots below. Yes, poison ivy is considered an Iowa wildflower, although no one's going to plant it as an ornamental.

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Also known as riverbank grape, wild grape (Vitis riparia) grows in many states and played an important role in saving European vineyards during the second half of the 19th century. An aphid was attacking and destroying the roots of grape vines used in wine-making. The cure was to graft these cultivated European grape varieties onto the rootstock of the wild grapes.

You can find wild grapes along many riverbanks and roadsides in Iowa. The vines easily climb on trees, bridges, or man-made fences. Here's a shot of the vine with clusters of buds.

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The flowers are tiny and hard to see, let alone capture on film, but here are a couple of shots of wild grape plants starting to bloom.

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On the first day I was photographing the wild grape vines, I noticed some fairly tall poison ivy plants with buds. I've mostly seen poison ivy growing close to the ground. In this picture, the classic "leaves of three" are interspersed with some Virginia waterleaf plants in bloom.

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However, poison ivy can grow to the size of a bush or small tree. Here's a poison ivy plant with a cluster of buds.

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I admit, I was nervous getting close enough to these plants to see the flowers. I've only ever had one poison ivy rash in my life, and I don't care to repeat the experience. But curiosity triumphed over fear, so a couple of weeks later, I went back to find these poison ivy plants blooming. The flowers are light green and small, usually about 1/6 inch across, according to Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull.

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Here's a closer view of the flowers.

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If you brush up against poison ivy leaves or vines, get home as quickly as you can and wash all the exposed areas with a special soap or mixture designed to remove the urushiol oils from your skin. Doing so can reduce the rash. Unfortunately, many people don't realize they've been exposed until they start itching and blistering a day or two later.

Tags: Wildflowers

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