These Southern Grapes Are the Stuff of Legend
Harper Lee even wrote about them.
Scupper-what? Repeat after me: “Scup-per-nong.” Don’t forget that final “n”—the word rhymes with “song,” not “frog.” Southerners will know scuppernong grapes by their greenish golden skin, sweet fragrance, and late-summer appearance. They're native to the southeastern U.S., so enjoying a plump scuppernong plucked off a vine warmed by the summer sun is a quintessentially Southern experience. Botanically speaking, they’re a variety of muscadine grape that goes by the scientific name Vitis rotundifolia ‘Scuppernong.’
Scuppernongs are big, juicy grapes that are greenish, burnished bronze, or green-gold in color. More often than not, golden-hued muscadines are called scuppernongs, even if they’re not necessarily of the actual variety. A while back, Southern Living spoke to Dr. Arlie Powell, a fruit scientist, who explained the difference between muscadines and scuppernongs this way, “All scuppernongs are muscadines, but not all muscadines are scuppernongs. A ‘Scuppernong’ is actually a specific selection of muscadine.”
Scuppernongs are the state fruit of North Carolina, and they’re named after North Carolina’s Scuppernong River, which is located just off Albermarle Sound. That’s where the grapes were originally found growing wild, then identified and cultivated during the 17th century. Even earlier, the Scuppernong got its name from the Algonquin word “ascopa,” which refers to the sweet bay tree that grows in the area.
These grapes are related to one of the most famous plants in the world, a neighboring muscadine vine found on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. It’s called the “Mother Vine,” and it’s the plant from which the first bronze muscadines grew. This muscadine vine is hundreds of years old and thought to be the oldest cultivated grape vine in the country.
Even more famous than the Mother Vine, to Southerners at least, is scuppernong wine. It’s a delicacy made from the harvest of the grapes. They ripen in late summer and are harvested in August and September. In the kitchen, scuppernongs can also be used to make jams, jellies, and preserves. Ask anyone: They're something like minor celebrities down South. The grapes are even mentioned a few times in Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
Thinking about planting scuppernong vines this year? Muscadines thrive in mild climates. They’re found growing from Delaware to Florida and from the Atlantic coast to Texas, places where the temperature doesn’t drop too far below ten degrees Fahrenheit in winter. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, the grapes are “adapted to heat and humidity and thrive in the Coastal, Lower, and Middle South, as well as protected areas of the Upper South. Muscadines grow in a variety of soil types and pH ranges if they’re given good drainage. Full sun is a must: Four hours is the minimum; six or more is preferred.” The best time to plant the vines is in late fall and winter.
WATCH: The Grumpy Gardener’s Guide to Muscadines
Are you well-acquainted with muscadines and scuppernongs? Have you ever enjoyed a ripe scuppernong just off the vine?