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Saving America's Mother Vine

A North Carolina brush crew's weedkiller almost ends the 400-year run of the nation's oldest cultivated grapevine.

July 25, 2010|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

The Mother Vine produces sweet scuppernong grapes, a variety of muscadine. "In all the world the like abundance is not to be found," two of Sir Walter Raleigh's explorers wrote from Roanoke Island in 1584. The island's grapes helped sustain Raleigh's settlers before the 1587 Lost Colony mysteriously disappeared forever.

Thousands of cuttings have been taken from the vine, John Wilson said, helping sustain North Carolina's growing wine industry. A health products company sells supplements made from Mother Vine grape pomace, touting the fruit's antioxidants.

Jack Wilson said he's been eating the amber grapes since he was a boy listening to tales of the vine from his grandfather, who was born in 1872. He gives away loads of grapes to townspeople and tourists who stop by to gaze at the famous vine. In bountiful summers, the amber grapes hang in clusters from the canopy.

"It's a landmark from my childhood, and something that needed to be protected," Wilson said.

One reminder of the Mother Vine's near-death experience is a shriveled black tendril on a telephone pole at the front corner of Wilson's yard. There's also an ugly brown patch on Wilson's front hedge left by the herbicide, and several severed branches of an old pecan tree, amputated after they were sprayed.

Wilson still checks on the vine several times a day, like a nurse hovering over a recovering patient.

"Dad didn't sleep very well that first month," his son said. "He's sleeping better now."

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