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.
Know Your Scuppernongs
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.»
True scuppernongs look like an alien species of plant, with their thick skins. After you get through the vegetal exoskeleton, the grape looks similar to the aqueous humor of an eyeball. Large, bitter seeds rest inside. In fact, we have never met a seedless scuppernong.
A Delightful State Fruit
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. Every state in the union has a vineyard or a winery, but only six species of grapes are indigenous to North America and the muscadine is one of them. That’s where we get scuppernongs.
Scuppernong Wine Has Its Place
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.
So deep is the affection for this on-the-vine fruit, that North Carolina mentions it in their official state toast:
«Here’s to the land of the cotton bloom white,
Where the scuppernong perfumes the breeze at night,
Where the soft Southern moss and jessamine mate,
«Neath the murmuring pines of the Old North State!»
Grow Your Own Scuppernong Grapes
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 10°F 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.
Learn more about different varieties of muscadines, and consider making your own scuppernong jelly during this year’s harvest.
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?
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- North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Vitis rotundifolia.