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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Small Fruits & Berries

Of Muscadines and Scuppernongs (page 2 of 2)

by Suzanne DeJohn

Growing Challenges

Although those of you in the warmer parts of our region can grow muscadines in your backyard, that doesn't necessarily mean you should. Left unchecked, the vines will get frighteningly big (think Little Shop of Horrors), so you'll need to follow a rigorous pruning regimen to keep them manageable.

Vines should be set about 20 feet apart in rows; spacing between rows is up to you. The vines can then be trained to a very sturdy single wire trellis system set at a height of 5 or 6 feet to facilitate pruning and harvesting. Some types of muscadines are perfect-flowered, meaning the flowers have both male and female parts, and are self-fertile. However, some of the more commonly available varieties bear flowers with only female parts, so a perfect-flowered variety must be planted nearby if you want fruit. Fortunately, the plants are generally pest-free, with the exception of Japanese beetles, which can defoliate the vines.

Those of you unable or unwilling to grow your own muscadines, take heart. The fruit is readily available in September and October in grocery stores and some farmer's markets. You can eat it fresh or make jams, jellies, and pies. Or wine. In a recent study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that muscadine wines can contain up to seven times more resveratrol than regular wines. Even more impressive, they found that the fruits themselves have up to 40 times the amount of resveratrol as regular table grapes. Plus they contain the highest levels of antioxidants and ellagic acid of any other fruit tested, far more than blueberries, a nutritional powerhouse. (Ellagic acid is thought to help prevent abnormal cell growth.) And the levels of antioxidants weren't just a little higher, they were much higher.

I'm quite sure that you'll soon see muscadine juice next to pomegranate, blueberry, and cranberry juices -- all marketed as antioxidant-rich. In the meantime, I'm going to look for a muscadine vineyard to invest in.

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